When we hear the word ‘vampire’ a certain Edward Cullen, a very pale Brad Pitt and the king of them all, Dracula, come to mind. But vampire bats have only two things in common with these fictional characters: their dietary regime and their sharp fangs.
A group of international researchers has found that vampire bat venom has unique forms of anticoagulants, which prevent the clotting of blood, as well as molecules that trigger the dilatation of the victim’s arteries. Scientists believe that understanding these traits could help in the development of new drugs for treating strokes and high blood pressure.
“Just as snake venom has developed rapidly to stay ahead of evolving resistance in prey, vampire bats are rapidly evolving their venom to prevent the immune system of the prey from generating antibodies against the venom molecules," explains herpetologist and molecular biologist Dr Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland in Australia in a press release.
Fry, lead author of the study, explains in the release that the venom contains multiple forms of the same active components that present tiny changes distributed along the surface of the molecule. If the victim develops an antibody against one molecule, others will still be able to penetrate the defence system while keeping the blood flowing. This guarantees that the vampire bat can keep feeding on the same victim… night after night.
“The discovery," he says "reveals a vast array of novel molecules, which have tremendous potential to yield new treatments for stroke and high blood pressure”.
The results were described in the ingeniously-titled paper “Dracula’s children: Molecular evolution of vampire bat venom,” which was published in the Journal of Proteomics.