A tree attacking you with needles? For starters, a tree that attacks you? Yes, and it’s called Gimpi Gimpi. This cute name translates to something like “suicide peak”. It is the poisonous tree from Australia that can cause you extreme pain. It is a member of the nettle family. And one of the most poisonous plants in the world. How can it be so stinging? University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have figured out why. The bush contains previously unknown neurotoxins. They are very similar to those of spiders or scorpions.
“They can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks,” says Irina Vetter. It belongs to the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at UQ. His team found the new neurotoxins. “It looks like other plants that sting, like nettles. It is covered with needle-shaped appendages called trichomes. They are about five millimeters long. They look like fine hair, but actually act like hypodermic needles that inject toxins, ”explains Vetter.
Other species did not cause severe and prolonged pain to the seedling, suggesting that it contained an unidentified neurotoxin. The team found it and found that it had an entirely new class of mini-proteins. They called them “gympietides” in honor of the native name of the plant.
‘Gympietides’ are similar to the toxins found in spiders and cone snails. They target the same pain receptors. This potentially makes the Gimpi Gimpi a really poisonous plant, ”concludes the study author, published in Science Advances.
“When we understand how Australian poison tree poison works, we hope that we can better treat those who have been bitten. We could alleviate or eliminate pain, ”says Vetter. For example with the development of new pain relievers.
Researchers wonder when and how these toxins developed. They indicate two possibilities. It could be a development from an ancestral gene to an ancient common ancestor. Or a convergent evolution in which nature reinvents the most appropriate structure to adapt to a common purpose.