"Our research on the venom of Australian stinging trees, found in the country's northeast, shows these unsafe plants can inject unwary wanderers with chemicals much like those found in the stings of scorpions, spiders and cone snails", the researchers said.
Gympie-The venom of the Gympie tree resembles the secretions of spiders and venomous bowling houses.
The intense pain can last from 1-4 hours, depending on the species that one got in contact with, the surface area of the skin affected, and how hard one contacted the plant.
Well, not only are the animals out to get you, but the plants are unsafe too.
"The Australian stinging tree species are particularly notorious for producing an excruciatingly painful sting, which unlike those of their European and North American relatives can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks", Irina Vetter, associate professor at the UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said.
Split-second contact with the dendrocnide tree, a rainforest nettle known by its indigenous name gympie-gympie, delivers a sting far more potent than similar plants found in the U.S. or Europe.
Small molecules in trichomes such as histamine, acetylcholine and formic acid have been tested before, but injection of these does not cause severe and chronic pain, suggesting the presence of unidentified neurotoxins.
The team found a new neurotoxin from the venomous tree.
"Like other stinging plants such as nettles, the giant stinging tree is covered in needle-like appendages called trichomes that are around five millimeters in length-the trichomes look like fine hairs, but act like hypodermic needles that inject toxins when they make contact with skin", she added.
A team of scientists from the University of Queensland and King's College London has found that the venom of Australian Dendrocnide trees contains previously unidentified neurotoxic peptides and that the 3D structure of these pain-inducing peptides is reminiscent of spider and cone snail venoms targeting the same pain receptors, thus representing a remarkable case of inter-kingdom convergent evolution of animal and plant venoms.
Homing in on the mechanism at play, the researchers discovered these gympietides seem to trigger permanent changes to the sodium channels in sensory neurons.
The gympietides also has the potential to be used as bases for new therapies for pain management.
The researchers point to two possibilities for the toxin's evolution from either an ancestral gene in an ancient shared ancestor or convergent evolution, where nature re-invents the most fitting structure to fit a common objective.
Researchers hope the study, published Wednesday in the Science Advances journal, will help provide new information as to how pain-sensing nerves function, and help in developing painkillers.