Viewed from afar, the Gympie gympie(Dendrocnide moroides) is just a beautiful plant with leaves that can reach meters in height, however, that is where everything beautiful ends. Its sting is so painful and the effects of its poison last so long that a team of researchers were intrigued by it and has decided to study it thoroughly with surprising results.
The Gympie gympie plant is covered in hollow spines of up to 5mm in length that function like hypodermic needles. In close contact with the plant, the spines break and dig into the skin, releasing a very powerful toxin known as moroidine that causes excruciating pain and skin inflammation that can last for days or even weeks.
The Gympie gympie plant is found in Australia and belongs to the same broad family of plants as the nettles, the Urticaceae. According to researchers, this tree is the most toxic of the Dendrocnide family.
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Professor Irina Vetter in collaboration with Dr. Thomas Durek studied the properties of Moroidine at the Institute for Molecular Biology at the University of Queensland in Australia.
The toxin has been studied before and researchers categorised its potency to as equal to or equivalent to that of some spiders or sea snails.
However, there were still more to study about the moroidine including its extremely long duration of its effects.
During an experiment, the researchers have served to isolate the molecule responsible for this twisted torture and this has led them to discover a protein unknown until now that they have baptized as gimeptides.
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Gimeptides fold in a way that fits pain receptors in a special way. What they basically do is alter the sodium channels of sensory neurons permanently. Which explains why there are people who claim to continue noticing discomfort months or even years after having touched the plant.
The discovery of this new molecule is not only interesting in itself. Understanding how the molecule works opens the door to all kinds of new pain treatments. [University of Queensland via New Scientist]