Students work alongside professor to discover new treatments for snakebites 


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Melia Williams, Staff Writer

A group of students has been conducting a research project about opossums alongside chemistry professor Marshall Werner for the past six years. 

Werner was interested in researching how two proteins from an opossum were able to resist even the strongest snake venom. His father being a veterinarian, Werner knew about the resistance that opossums possessed at an early age.

“The goal of this research is to understand the mechanism of how these proteins that 0possums make provide resistance to pit vipers,” Werner said. 

In order to understand this, Werner and his students have studied opossums all the way down to their genetic makeup.

The goal of the research is to discover a way to make better treatments for snakebites. 

“So what we’ve done is we’ve taken the gene out of the opossum and put it into bacteria so that we can then express the protein or make lots of it, and then we purify it, and then that allows us to study it in the lab,” Werner said. 

Despite the inevitability of problems arising, Werner and the students have continued their research. 

“Problems always come up and research, research is mostly about persistence and overcoming challenges that come up,” Werner said. “I have a saying for my students in the lab that if 50% of your experiments are working, you’re doing really good.”

Werner said it’s best to look at challenges as an opportunity to discover something new instead of just a setback. 

“Research is an excellent way to learn about critical thinking, addressing problems and figuring out how to answer those questions and problems,” Werner said. “That can be applied to any kind of discipline or profession.”

Werner said the group hopes to continue to build upon their research as they learn more. 

“What we want to do now is actually determine the three-dimensional structure of that protein so that we can help understand the mechanism of exactly how these proteins are providing resistance to the opossum,” Werner said. “We might learn something that would be useful, maybe form a smaller peptide or other therapies that could be used after a snake bite that might help a patient.”

For students looking to go attend graduate school or medical school, research can be a helpful component to include in a resume. 

If students have an interest in participating in undergraduate research, the Office of Undergraduate Research (OURS) has a number of different funded programs with the opportunity to partner up with a faculty member.