Detecting snake venom with Synthetic Biology

The 2017 BioBuilders team is working on a new method to diagnose snake envenomings, using synthetic biology to produce substrates, targeting the distinctive venom proteases of different snake families
Envenomation by snakebite is one of the most neglected diseases with an estimated 5 million bites. These result in about 100,000 deaths and 400,000 disabilities annually. The only effective treatment is animal derived antivenoms, which frequently causes adverse reactions. As a result they are often only administered as a last resort.
One of the major problems related to treatment of snake bites concerns the lack of identification of the snake. When bitten, it is difficult for most people to remember details about the snake, which makes it almost impossible to confidently administer the correct specific antivenom. Currently, if the snake cannot be identified, multispecies antivenom is used in a consequently higher dose leading to more severe side effects.
By solving the venom identification problem it could potentially increase the survival rate of snake bite victims. This is due to decreased diagnosis time and less amount of antivenom necessary for treatment, thereby causing fewer adverse reactions in the patient.
We aim to create a novel diagnostic platform by using synthetic biology derived protease activity assay to identify specific venom enzymes that, by developing suitable substrates, can investigate the relative composition of specific venom components in a blood sample. Our goal is to create a diagnostic tool that would make it possible for a clinician to quickly determine which antivenom is necessary, or if it is necessary at all.


Christopher Workman
Associate Professor
DTU Bioengineering
+45 45 25 27 00

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