Sequencing of Indian Cobra
Baljit Dhaka

Sequencing of Indian Cobra

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  • What is the Indian cobra?

The Indian cobra, also known as the spectacled cobra, Asian cobra, or binucleate cobra, is a species of the genus Naja found, in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan.

  • Its scientific name is Naja naja.
  • It’s a member of the “big four” species that inflict the most snake-bites on humans in India. The other three members are Common krait, Russell's viper, and Indian saw-scaled viper.
  • The oscillation of the Indian cobra is its most distinguishing feature.

(Picture credits: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Why is it in the news?

Recently, a large international team of researchers affiliated with corporate and academic institutions has sequenced the genome of the Indian cobra.

  • They hope to develop a more effective antivenom using the sequenced genome.
  • Scientists have worked for many years to develop an effective antivenom for the “big four” snakes, but have thus far come up short.
  • Does that mean that the existing antivenoms are not so effective?

A recent study found that the common antivenom, said to be effective against the “big four”, is ineffective against several other species like a monocled cobra.

  • Moreover, it is effective against the common krait, one of the “big four”, of South India but not against the one of Punjab.
  • It can also produce serious side-effects and allergies.
  • How is antivenom produced currently?

Currently, Antivenom is made by injecting a small amount of venom into a domestic animal like a horse, which produces antibodies that are then collected and developed into antivenom.

  • The first antivenom for snakes was made for the Indian cobra by a French scientist Léon Charles Albert Calmette in 1894.
  • So, what have the scientists achieved this time?

The scientists associated with this research have identified 19 key toxins by sequencing the genome of the Indian cobra, which are the only ones that should matter in treating a snakebite. 15 of those genes are unique to this species.

  • The scientists suggest their findings could help design a new antivenom using recombinant protein technologies.
  • What are genome sequencing and recombinant protein?

A genome is the genetic material of an organism. Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA bases in it i.e. the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts.

  • Recombinant protein is a protein produced with the recombinant DNA technology, in which the genetic material of two different organisms is combined to synthesize a new protein.
  • Why is this good news for us?

Every year, approximately 50 lakh people around the world are bitten by venomous snakes, 400,000 of them lose their limbs and 100,000 lose their lives.

  • The Indian cobra itself kills around 10,000 people each year.
  • This research aims to produce antibodies that are broadly effective against venoms of snakes, not just against the Indian ones.