Venom for Health

first_imgRemember when botulinum toxin, one of the most potent poisons known to man, entered medical science for good?  Now fashion models brag about how “botox” improved their good looks, and sufferers of excess sweating or migraines find relief with the neurotoxin.  The search for good in bad substances has not stopped; other venomous organisms, once a scourge of mankind, are being investigated as agents of health for our bodies and our crops.Nature’s pharmacy:  Live Science listed the following plants and animals as potential sources of medicine: venomous cone snails, cave creatures, sap from the guggel tree, a weed from the Nile, and various extracts from sea squirts.  “Nature is a prolific source of new medicines,” the article said.  “In fact, natural products have led to more than half of the new drugs introduced during the past 25 years.”    A passing reference to evolution said, “Over millions of years, organisms have evolved protective chemicals that interact with specific proteins in their enemies,” but did not elaborate on how that could have happened or how the organisms survived without them in the meantime.  “Where nature is hiding the next medical treasure is anyone’s guess.”Snail drug store:  Back in February, PhysOrg mentioned work at the University of Utah to isolate prialt, a venom from a marine cone snail.  “Prialt is injected into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord to treat chronic, intractable pain suffered by people with cancer, AIDS, injury, failed back surgery or certain nervous system disorders.”Scorpion fertilizer:  An article on Science Daily describes work at Michigan State working to understand scorpion venom as a useful pesticide for farmers.  Apparently the venom attacks some ion channels in insects but not mammals.  If researchers can determine why, they may be able to design pesticides that selectively attack insects without hurting other animals.  They are using the Israeli desert scorpion as their model organism.Spider painkiller:  Back in March, Science Daily reported on work at UC Riverside to isolate a toxin in the American funnel web spider that appears effective in blocking the action of calcium channels.  “The toxin offers a new target for studying T-type channels, which play a role in congestive heart failure, hypertension, epilepsy and pain.”The Live Science article mentioned above explained why natural substances hold promise for medicine: “Because all living things share the same basic biochemistry, those chemicals can interact with the same proteins in people.” Sometimes a little poison, injected into the right place under the right conditions, can bring healing and relief.  See also 06/08/2004, 05/21/2007 bullet 4, and 12/10/2010, bullet 14.We humans tend to attribute morality to substances – the anthropomorphic fallacy.  Toxins and poisons seem evil.  Actually, they are just molecules, involved in checks and balances in the web of nature, whose actions under the right circumstances can be salutary for humans.  Little is gained by making up stories about how they evolved in the unobservable past.  Observational, testable lab work will determine whether the substances we naturally avoid in spiders, scorpions, snakes, snails, fungi and bacteria can be useful for improving our lives. (Visited 16 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img

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