Stephen P. Mackessy

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Recently, the benefits venom can have in the discovery and development of different medications to assist in treating a variety of diverse human diseases have been areas of research. In order to develop a better understanding of how to evaluate venoms for potential use as therapeutics, one needs to look at the fundamental composition of venom samples. This project aims at discovering and analyzing the basic components from the venom of four different subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake. Venom samples collected will be subjected to size exclusion chromatography to separate proteins of different sizes. After fractionation of venoms, the following assays are conducted on individual fractions to locate specific activities of enzymatic venom proteins: metalloproteinase activity, kallikrein-like and thrombin-like serine proteinase activities, phospholipase A2 activity, phosphodiesterase activity and L-amino acid oxidase activity. These tests will compare the basic biochemistry of the samples of venoms from the different subspecies to help expand knowledge on chemistry differences between closely related subspecies of rattlesnakes. Snakes use their venoms primarily to obtain food, and results will allow for further evaluation of how their differing venom compositions relate to specific aspects of their ecology, such as use of divergent habitats, potential risks of different predators, effects on various prey species utilized, as well as revealing those components that have remained static and are shared among all subspecies analyzed. Because envenomation symptoms will vary due to venom composition, these results will also help inform what medical sequelae should be expected from particular populations of rattlesnakes.

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