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Snake Bite DNA Test

November 10, 2014

Working like crime scene investigators, researchers use a rapid DNA test to analyze snake venom from the bite site.



Saw-scaled vipers carpet vipers Photo Credit D.J. Williams

Carpet vipers, otherwise known as saw-scaled vipers, cause a disproportionate number of deaths due to snakebite. (Credit:D.J. Williams/

A CSI snakebite test. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Envenomation following saw-scaled viper aka carpet viper bite, Africa Photo Credit D.A. Warrell

A child with envenomation following a bite by a carpet viper. (Credit:D.A. Warrell/

Snakebites claim the lives of tens of thousands of people each year, mostly in poor and developing countries. Inspired by forensic science, a multinational team of researchers has now developed a rapid DNA test that accurately identifies the type of snake from its bite. Goethe University biologist Ulrich Kuch explains.

ULRICH KUCH (Goethe University):

The test works like a standard crime scene investigation, we collect genetic evidence of the culprit – the snake – from the bite site, and we analyze that and find out the species of snake involved.


He says the test will help healthcare workers choose the appropriate anti-venom and anticipate species-specific complications. The next step will be to clinically validate the test in Burma and Nepal, where snakebites are a leading cause of death. The team presented their research at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.