Study of the toxin of slow loris (Nycticebus coucang), the world’s only venomous primate, has revealed the potential origin of cat allergens.
Slow lorises are the only known primates with venom. They usually use it during a fight, causing wounds that take a long time to heal. But if a slow loris bites a human, the symptoms will resemble an allergic shock.
Scientists analyzed the DNA sequence of the protein in slow loris venom and found that it is almost identical to the allergenic protein of cats.
«Cats secrete and coat themselves with this protein, and that’s what you react to if you’re allergic to them,» said Bryan Fry, a professor at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study.
Since slow loris uses its protein as a defensive weapon, the researchers believe that cat allergens may also be used as a defense.
«The fact that so many people are allergic to cats mightn’t be a coincidence. This may have been evolutionarily selected for in the wild as a defense against predators.»
«This is a fascinating hypothesis that we are looking to test in future research. Similarly, this line of research opens up other fascinating research areas, such as the allergies to ants and bees also being something that has been selected for by evolution — where the victim’s immune system is being high-jacked.»
The study was published
in the Toxins journal.