‘Possum Power

Research shows much maligned marsupial — the ’possum — is impervious to poisons

Posted on Sep 20 2012 in General
Photo by Hemera Technologies

Photo by Hemera Technologies

One of my favorite television characters was Granny from the hit 1960s series, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Granny was a firm believer in the old-time traditions and country ways and always had a pot of “elixir” brewing up down by the cement pond. Granny would extol the value of the potions of the educated and experienced “Hill Healer,” and she was a firm believer in the almost magical healing power of ’possum.

I was raised in the country among people who appreciated opossums and did not view them as vehicle-prone victims  but as candidates for Sunday dinner. Our neighbor Anderson Mantooth gladly paid a quarter or even a half dollar for an extra nice possum, and you can bet it was destined for dinner. I can remember “Anders” grinning and saying, “Possum is good for what ails you.”

Seems as if Granny and our neighbor “Anders” may have been right about their hypothesis on opossums. According to scientific research, there is awesome power in the possum!

It has been discovered, the American opossum, Didelphis virginiana, is invulnerable to nearly all forms of poison. And someday, opossums may provide an antidote to nearly all forms of poisons including everything from snakebites to the deadly ricin.

The Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins has found the American opossum produces a protein known as Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor, or LTNF. The protein is exactly what it sounds like, as it seeks out lethal poisons entering an opossum’s body and neutralizes them.

Amazingly, tests on the LTNF from opossums found the protein left the marsupial creatures immune to even poisons never encountered by the species, such as those from snakes found on other continents.

Scientists injected mice with the LTNF protein and subjected the rodents to venom from otherwise deadly creatures, including Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees. The LTNF protein protected against the venom of even the sea snake!

When the various venoms did not kill the mice, the mice were then exposed to deadly poisons, including ricin and botulinum toxin. And again, the LTNF protein was able to diffuse the poison, leaving the mice unharmed.

Interestingly, the discovery of LTNF was published more than 12 years ago which raises the questions as to whether the protein benefits would be applicable to humans, and why the test results are only now making news.

As the journal’s own abstract notes, “Thus, natural LTNF from opossum serum has potential as a universal therapy for envenomation caused by animals, plants and bacteria.”

As I remember, “Anders” wasn’t afraid of wasps, bees and hornets. He always said, “They don’t bother me much.”

It makes me wonder … could he, too, have possessed the power of possum?

Jack Spaulding is a state outdoors writer and a consumer of RushShelby Energy living along the Flatrock River in Moscow. Readers with questions or comments can write to him in care of Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224; or email jackspaulding@hughes.net.