The Butantan Institute: the world of snakes in the heart of Sao Paulo

Aesculapius was the Roman god of medicine and his attribute was the snake. Today, these reptiles are the object of phobia for most people on the planet. In Brazil, there are more than 70 poisonous species, which kill an average of 129 people, out of nearly 30,000 bites per year. Some of these bites, if not lethal, can cause disabilities, sometimes irreversible (necrosis of tissues around the wound, kidney failure…). WHO stated in 2017 that the problem of snake bite treatment was too often overlooked, while millions of people in the intertropical zone are exposed to it on a daily basis, most often in rural areas.No Brasil, áreas com mais picadas de cobra têm acesso difícil a soro

In Brazil, it is mainly men aged 15 to 49 who are victims of snake bites, especially on the lower limbs, when working in the fields or in the forest. Cientistas da UFF identificam planta que inibe o veneno da surucucu
Faced with this risk, Brazil has had an institution, the Butantã Institute (biomedical research centre), in São Paulo, for more than a century. It is now a world-renowned centre for scientific research on ophidians, spiders and scorpions and on venoms and antivenom production. Two hundred researchers are trying to better understand the secrets of venom molecules in order to develop antidotes to the many potential poisonings in Brazil. But the institute is also a research and production centre for vaccines against infectious diseases carried by an animal vector.  He was in charge of producing an antidote to the Zika virus.

Every day, eight technicians from the centre will extract the precious venom from many snakes with immense respect for the animal handled and great care. Only two accidents are reported, while the handlers extract more than tens of thousands of venoms per year. But research doesn’t stop with snakes alone. Spiders, caterpillars, scorpions are studied in the hope of discovering a miracle molecule with biomedical applications. Thus, a caterpillar, lonomia, would have a venom that would dissolve blood clots. Application in case of long surgery would be possible. The rattlesnake venom derivative is believed to have applications in the fight against certain cancers.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "fotos instituto butantan"

(source Diverte Cultural)


Au coeur du Brésil, les serpents crachent leurs mystérieux venins.
The use of antivenom serum is complex. Serums often provide specific answers to snake bites whose species must be identified. The serum must then have been stored under conditions that respect the cold chain. This may seem very complicated in the remote areas of Brazil, the most exposed to the risk of bite.  A recent development has been the launch of a powdered serum against snake bites. « The advantage is that it can withstand an ambient temperature of 38 degrees and can be stored for 5 years, so it can be transported to areas that are difficult to access. The new powdered product is effective against 3 groups of snakes: Jararaca (spearhead or bothrops), surucucu (bush master or lachesis muta) and rattlesnakes ». (
The venom of the surucucu is the most dangerous but the bites of this magnificent ophidian are rare (only 2% of venomous snake bites). The low number of bites of this snake has in fact stimulated little serum production by the laboratories. Fluminense Federal University is said to have developed a serum based on a plant called Stryphnodendron barbatimam Mart, already known for its anti-haemorrhagic properties and which would neutralize the effects of the venom of South America’s largest poisonous snake (op.citée).

The institute is also an information, teaching and research centre on snakes and biotechnologies with an international scope. We can visit it.  Reptiles are visible and an interesting museum shows both a history of the centre and the techniques of serum making, after injections of venom diluted with horses (a technique still used). Let us simply hope that it does not go up in smoke like the National Museum of Rio, because its collection of naturalized animals has already been destroyed by fire due to a lack of sufficient resources for the maintenance of the premises.

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