In need of a companion
Chinese red-headed centipede
A drug idea with legs
Frankly, it’s a safe guess that any critter whose Latin name is Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans is going to be pretty scary (mutilans!). And, by all outward appearances, the Chinese red-headed centipede qualifies. It averages eight inches in length and packs a venomous bite.
In this case, though, you might want to reconsider outward appearances. According to ancient Chinese medical traditions, the centipede possesses distinctive healing properties. Apply one to a rash or wound and it’s supposed to heal faster.
Or not. The case for using centipedes as living Band-Aids is fairly anecdotal.
On the other hand, the bite of the bug might actually prove empirically healthful. Or more accurately, the venom contained in that bite.
In a new study, researchers in Australia and China say the centipede’s venom contains a pain-killing molecule potentially as effective as morphine. Specifically, the molecule targets a nerve channel called Nav1.7. “People without a functioning Nav1.7 channel cannot feel pain,” said Glenn King at the University of Queensland, “so it’s likely molecules that can block this channel will be powerful painkillers.”
(The centipedes presumably evolved the molecule to block similar nerve channels in insects, allowing them to kill and eat them more efficiently.)
More research and development is required, of course, to convert these basic findings into a usable drug, but the idea has been tried before. There are already a number of pain relievers on the market based upon animal venom, with more in the works, among them painkillers based upon the venoms of snakes, scorpions and, um, snails.
It should be noted that while cone snails are neither scary-sounding nor scary-looking, they are terrors of the sea. They are carnivorous and predatory and use a venomous harpoon to capture faster-moving fish. The venom of larger species is powerful enough to kill a human.
Conversely, Chinese red-headed centipedes tend to be non-aggressive and reportedly make fine pets, though you probably shouldn’t let them bite you.
F o g g y Valley.
That would be awesome.