EVERGLADES, Fla. – A python hunter and a researcher believe the help in the fight against COVID-19 is hiding in the Florida Everglades.
Dustin Crum and Daryl Thompson, a researcher, and entrepreneur with Global Research and Discovery Group out of Winter Haven, said the invasive Burmese python contains squalene, a compound that’s commonly used in vaccines.
Scientists say squalene can stimulate a stronger immune response when used in vaccines. It’s usually found in sharks, 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.
According to the World Health organization, squalene is safe and effective. Currently, the compound is not on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of ingredients in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
A spokesperson from Pfizer released a statement saying, “There is no human or animal products of any sort” in the drug. But some scientists are skeptical about the reliability of pythons as a source of squalene.
University of Florida professor Jim Wellehan released a statement saying, “I agree that it’s a bad and unsustainable idea to harvest it from sharks, as we’re currently doing. I also agree that pythons in the everglades are a major problem.
“However, there’s no way it makes economic sense to harvest it from pythons- the labor costs to do this for a cryptic species hiding in a difficult habitat would be ridiculous.”
Wellehan also said a better breakthrough would be the engineering of microbes to produce large quantities of squalene.
Crum is undeterred. He said he believes 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 said.