How to milk the snake without getting bitten

by Bastiaan Bijl | Friday, January 24, 2020 |

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What do you get when you put a well-known snake expert, a famous professor in molecular genetics, and 3 PhD students in a room?

TOP-NOTCH SCIENCE!

The research, conducted by 3 PhD students from the group from Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute, originally started as a joke at an informal get-together, but was published yesterday in the renowned scientific magazine Cell (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2019.11.038).

What have they done?

In a large scientific collaboration between many different scientific institutes, the researchers show that it is possible to grow snake venom glands in a dish. This technology, originally devised by professor Clevers, is that of ‘organoids’: growing functional mini-organs derived from stem cells, that bear all the characteristics of a real organ. A discovery with an enormous potential for top-notch scientific research.

So why look at snake glands?

Globally, 100.000 people die each year as a result of snake bites, and many more become permanently handicapped. Antidote is difficult to come by: first of all, snakes need to be ‘milked’ for their poison, a labour-intensive and sometimes dangerous process. Secondly, to create the antidote, large animals are immunized with tiny amounts of the venom, which triggers their immune system to make anti-venom that can be harvested. An expensive and cumbersome process.

With the snake gland organoids, the scientists ensure availability of a constant and easily accessible flow of snake venom. Venom that can be used for further scientific research into anti-venom or new and promising drugs.

Single-cell sequencing

At Single Cell Discoveries, we are incredibly proud to have been able to contribute to this awesome research with our SORT-seq single-cell sequencing service.

What have we done?

To determine the heterogeneity of the actual venom glands and the gland organoids, we performed single-cell RNA sequencing analysis on both of them.

The data we generated allowed the researchers to conclude that the organoids are indeed highly identical to the original snake glands: all of the different toxin-producing cell types identified in the venom glands, were also detected in the organoids.

Furthermore, the data proved that the composition of the organoids remains stable over time, which validates the snake venom gland organoids as a good model system for the long run.

Single-cell sequencing has proven to be instrumental in the validation of the snake venom gland organoid system, and can also play an important role in the research that will inevitably follow.

Therefore, we look forward to many more cutting-edge scientific collaborations in the future!