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Victims report an initial sting that "feels like fire at first, then subsides over hours to a pain reminiscent of having the affected body part caught in a slammed car door", the University of Queensland researchers said Thursday. In the final, drawn-out stages, simply taking a shower can reignite the pain.
Irina Vetter, an associate professor at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said the research team discovered a new class of neurotoxin mini proteins, which they christened 'gympietides'.
"Although they come from a plant, the gympietides are similar to spider and cone snail toxins in the way they fold into their 3D molecular structures and target the same pain receptors -- this arguably makes the Gympie-Gympie tree a truly 'venomous' plant," she said.
Vetter said the long-lasting pain inflicted by the tree may be explained by the gympietides permanently altering the chemical makeup of the affected sensory neurons -- not due to the fine hairs getting stuck in the skin.