Research into the toxin of the world’s only venomous primate, the slow loris,is shedding light on the potential origins of the allergic qualities of cats.
An international team, led by University of Queensland’s Associate ProfessorBryan Fry, has been studying slow lorises at the Cikananga Wildlife RescueCentre in Indonesia.
“Slow lorises are the only known primates with venom and they’ve beenvirtually unstudied,” Dr Fry said.
“Despite being a mystery to science, they’re commonly smuggled from the wildand sold in the pet trade, so our rescue centre research was the perfectopportunity to do some good in a bad situation.
“Generally slow lorises use their venom to fight with other slow lorises,causing very slow-to-heal wounds.
“But, when humans are bitten, the victim will display symptoms as if they’regoing into allergic shock.”
He said this similarity was even more striking when studied in the lab.
“We analysed the DNA sequence of the protein in slow loris venom, discoveringthat it’s virtually identical to the allergenic protein on cats.
“Cats secrete and coat themselves with this protein, and that’s what you reactto if you’re allergic to them.
“Our theory is that since this protein is being used as a defensive weapon inslow lorises, it makes sense that cats may be using the allergen as adefensive weapon too.
“The fact that so many people are allergic to cats mightn’t be a coincidence.
“This may have been evolutionarily selected for in the wild as a defenceagainst predators.
“This ability to trigger allergy as a weapon mightn’t be something restrictedto slow lorises, but may have separately evolved in cats at the same time.
“This is a fascinating hypothesis that we are looking to test in futureresearch.”
Dr Fry said the team regarded this as another elegant example of evolution inaction.
“This finding shows how inventive nature is when developing new toxicarsenals,” he said.
“The human allergy to cats is so prevelant that it would be a remarkablecoincidence if this wasn’t an evolved defensive weapon, like the same proteinused by slow lorises.
“Your pet cat wouldn’t know it, but it may have evolved a toxic defence tokeep predators as far away from it as possible.
“Similarly, this line of research opens up other fascinating research areas,such as the allergies to ants and bees also being something that has beenselected for by evolution – where the victim’s immune system is being high-jacked.
“This study is a great example of what makes science so wonderful, where everyanswer spawns several new and interesting questions”.
The research has been published in Toxins (DOI: 10.3390/toxins12020086).
Image: The bite of the slow loris can induce allergy-like reactions inhumans
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