Australian stinging trees and cone snails share something in common, Queensland researchers say
Australia's stinging trees are notorious for delivering excruciating pain that can last for days, weeks or even months and researchers now say they know why.
South-East Queensland's giant stinging tree and its northern cousin, the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree are both members of the nettle family and are covered in needle-like hairs filled with toxins.
"When you brush past them, the needles act like a hypodermic syringe, penetrating your skin to inject what we now really consider a venom," Professor Irina Vetter said.
"The minimum time that it can hurt for is around six to eight hours, but the really intriguing thing is you can trigger this pain for days, weeks and in some cases even months after being exposed."
Professor Vetter, from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, has spent more than 10 years studying the notorious reputation of Australia's stinging trees.
She and her team have recently discovered an entire new family of proteins, or peptides, found in the trees' stinging hairs.
"The primary structure of them is completely novel, we've never seen anything like this before," Professor Vetter said.
"They act on channels in your sensory nerves, your pain-sensing nerves in the skin. They basically activate them and away you go and suffer."
Far North Queensland trekking guide, Wayne Fitcher, is no stranger to the searing pain that follows encounters with stinging trees.
He said his most memorable experience of the plant occurred while guiding a group of schoolchildren through dense rainforest.
"Young Ryan was up ...
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