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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The opossum may not seem like much, but it has some tricks up its sleeve. 

Its name derives from a Proto-Algonquian word meaning “white beast”, and it’s known for eating pretty much anything and its ability to play dead — but you’ve probably never heard that these creatures have a natural immunity to snake venom. 

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This is a result of a protein called Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor, or LTNF. This unique protein finds lethal toxins in the body and disables them.

One study published in the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins tested how mice would fare with this same protein: The mice were injected with a variety of different lethal toxins, with and without LTNF. The mice that had the protein all lived, and those without it all died. Even more interesting is the range of toxins that were targeted by LTNF. Even toxins from animals that the opossum would never come across in its natural habitat, such as sea snake venom, were disabled by the protein.

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An oppossum dines on a snake

What’s more, the tests on LTNF showed that it still worked if the mice were injected with the protein half an hour before or after the venom. The findings suggest that LTNF is the key to making a highly effective toxin neutralizer. This has potential as a preventative measure, such as for snake handlers, as well as a cure for snakebites and scorpion stings.

We should give these guys a little more credit— this protein could save countless lives around the world.