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Venomous Mammal

March 20, 2018

Scientists decode the genome of a rare, primitive mammal with a venomous bite.

Transcript

Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) is one of the only extant venomous mammals. (Eladio Fernandez, Caribbean Nature Photography)

Hispaniolan solenodon. (Eladio Fernandez, Caribbean Nature Photography)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Saving an oddball mammal. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The solenodon is a rare and bizarre creature native to the Caribbean islands.  It’s one of the few venomous mammals in the world; looks like a foot-long shrew; and has a mobile snout that pivots on a ball-and-socket joint.  In the journal GigaScience, University of Puerto Rico geneticist Juan Carlos Martinez-Cruzado and his colleagues have published the genome of the animal. He says they’re especially interested in the genetics of its venom, which could have medical uses, and its unusually acute hearing.

JUAN CARLOS MARTINEZ-CRUZADO (University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez):

We may learn more about which genes are necessary for the development of the ear.

HIRSHON:

He says Solenodons are virtually unchanged since they first evolved nearly eighty million years ago, and their nocturnal, burrowing lifestyle may have helped them survive the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon