May 17, 2010

Dead Snake Collection Destroyed In Fire

The world's largest scientific collection of dead snakes has been destroyed by fire that broke out at a science institute in Brazil, according to scientists Sunday.

Members of the Instituto Butantan said the nearly 100-year-old collection contained some 80,000 snakes and several thousand spiders and scorpions. The specimens were used to study evolution and provided invaluable information on how to prevent extinctions, said Otavio Mercadante, institute director.

"The entire collection was lost, the biggest collection of snakes in the world," curator Francisco Franco told local media. "It's a loss to humanity."

Live animals that are kept at the institute were in a building adjacent to the one that burned but were safe. Volunteers did remove the animals just in case the fire spread. No humans or live animals were harmed by the blaze.

Many of the institute's animals are used in the production of vaccines and biopharmaceuticals, some derived from venom. Officials said the production of vaccines and other drugs will not be affected by the blaze and loss of the collection of snakes.

"Even if we could gather another collection with 100,000 specimens, the historic value would still be lost," researcher Thais Guedes told The Associated Press.

Authorities said an investigation into what caused the fire was opened immediately. A faulty electrical circuit was a possibility and was being looked into. The laboratory where the collection was held was open only to students and researchers, but authorities did not rule out the possibility of arson.

The specimens were preserved in flammable liquids, which helped the flames spread rapidly, firefighter Captain Miguel Jodas said.

Officials at the institute said they are already working to rebuild the collection.


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