With all the things to worry about – climate change, wars, AIDS, tigers, orang-u-tans, whales and fish – do I have to add an ugly little lizard to my list? I’m afraid so.
The lizard in question has a name that could make it a star in a Hollywood horror movie. The extraordinary thing about the Gila monster is that it may eat as rarely as three times a year, when it can consume a third of its bodyweight. Its saliva stimulates insulin secretion, which makes it possible for the lizard to metabolize these oversize meals.
The lizard saliva molecule has been incorporated by the pharmaceuticals company Eli Lilly into a drug called Byetta. By stimulating insulin production and extending the time food is in the stomach, the drug is helpful in treating type 2 diabetes when patients don’t produce adequate insulin on their own and don’t extract enough nutrients from their food.
There is also another development that might do even more to save this endangered lizard. It helps people lose weight.