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Researcher: Pythons captured in Florida Everglades could help produce COVID vaccines

Lt Governor Python Hunting
This Monday, May 15, 2017, photo provided by the South Florida Water Management District shows Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera with a 15-foot-4 inch python caught in the Everglades in Florida. Cantera went python hunting with the district hunters. (Bobby Hill/South Florida Water Management District via AP)

EVERGLADES, Fla. – A Florida python hunter and a researcher believes the big invasive snakes could serve a helpful purpose in combatting COVID-19.

Dustin Crum says the invasive Burmese python contains “squalene,” a compound that’s commonly used in vaccines.

“Traditional medicine has been using python and python components for natural medicine and whatnot, so I knew there was something special in the snake,” said Crum.

He recently donating pythons he caught to scientist Daryl Thompson’s lab for more research in isolating squalene to use as a key ingredient in COVID-19 vaccines.
The compound is listed as lipids or fats on the Food and Drug Administration’s website for both the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Scientists say squalene, usually found in sharks, can stimulate a stronger immune response when used in vaccines. But animal advocates oppose harvesting the fat molecule from the shark’s liver.

“We wanted to look for alternate sources,” Thompson said. “A 10-foot python has about 35 grams of squalene in it. That’s enough to make about 3,500 vaccinations.”

“We have a lot of snakes in the Everglades,” Crum said.

But some scientists are skeptical about the reliability of pythons as a source of squalene.

University of Florida professor Jim Wellehan cast doubt on the python’s use in vaccines, “There’s no way it makes economic sense to harvest squalene from pythons- the labor costs to do this for a cryptic species hiding in a difficult habitat would be ridiculous.”

Crum counters and argues that there are enough pythons to be effective and that it “is giving us instructions on how to make the squalene synthetically.”

“Saving the animals, that makes me very happy. But to just think that we have the potential to save human lives. I mean – that’s the ultimate,” Crum told WPLG Local 10.