Venom can kill. It can also make money and, more importantly, save lives.
“Why is venom, filled with deadly toxins, now a leading contender for lifesaving drugs on so many medical fronts?” asks PBS documentary, Venom, A Production of NOVA and National Geographic Television.
What Good are Snakes?
For several years now, while presenting reptile programs in schools, we have asked the question, “What good are snakes?” Answers are usually restricted to the fact that snakes consume rodents and other critters that bother us. Recently, more students are acknowledging that venom can be used to create medicine to help cancer and heart patients, as well as diabetics and others.
Toxins are proteins, according to the program Venom. They are nearly chemically identical to the good proteins in our bodies, but different enough to cause nerves to shut down, blood cells to rupture or clot (or not), and blood pressure to drop or rise.
“In medicine,” Venom continues, “the powerful effect of these bad proteins might be useful if they could be controlled.”
Killing venomous snakes or other venomous animals might be compared to burning the rainforests. Just as scientists scramble to identify foliage that might prove beneficial in curing diseases before rainforests disappear, others study potent substances, before venomous creatures become extinct, to help solve vexing medical issues. They work with venom to create drugs that have already treated diseases such as diabetes.
Money from Venom
“Do you know of anybody taking high blood pressure medication?” asks molecular biologist Bryan Fry on the program, Venom. “Odds are they’re taking a class of compound called ACE inhibitors. Well, the founding member of this multibillion-dollar drug class was actually a modified snake toxin. One of the biggest meanest, most horrible South American snakes has saved countless lives while making a lot of people a lot of money.”
And money will hopefully save venomous animals and their habitats. “The only reason people are going to preserve anything in nature,” Bryan Fry says, “is if money can be made off of it.”
Biologist Greta Binford studies spider venom. “Venoms are just a goldmine of chemistry,” she says. “It’s just rich for exploration and discovery. But then, what also struck my passion about it is, you know, it’s going extinct before we know what’s in there.”
“They’re a resource,” says Bryan Fry. “If we wipe them out, that means you could be destroying the next component that might have made you a billion dollars or saved your grandmother’s life.”
To watch the documentary or read the transcript to discover more reasons to preserve and protect venomous snakes and other venomous creatures, log onto Venom: