What are the most powerful animal toxins

Poisonous or Curative? Animal poisons in medicine


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Snakes, spiders, jellyfish, scorpions, snails and clams produce poison to kill prey or to defend themselves. But as a drug in the treatment of diseases, animal poisons could help humans.

Status: April 16, 2021

Pit vipers, cone snails and crustaceans have one thing in common: They are poisonous. Just like around 100,000 other animal species. Their poisons are used to paralyze and stun prey. Or are powerful defensive weapons to incapacitate enemies. Animal poisons can be useful for humans. Medicine in particular can benefit from them, because animal toxins can act as antihypertensive agents, anticoagulants or pain relievers.

Examples of animal poisons and their potentially beneficial effects on humans

The poison of the black mamba can suppress pain in humans. Animal poisons are sometimes not only poisonous, but also wholesome. They have long been used in medicine and naturopathy, not just the venom from snakes.

Animal poisons and their importance in earlier times

There is no evidence that animal toxins were used as medicines by the Greeks and Romans in ancient times. In the Renaissance, researchers first studied poisonous animals and discovered that snakes have special venom glands in their jaws and store the venom in hollow teeth. It was not until the 19th century that homeopathy began to use the poisons of snakes and other animals for the benefit of humans: in the typical dilution, so-called potentization, of the respective snake or bee venom.

The long way from animal poison to medicine

In contrast to vegetable poisons, animal poisons consist of so-called peptides. These are protein compounds that are broken down in the stomach and do not get into the blood. But they would have to in order to be able to work. That is why the fabrics are modeled on nature in the laboratory. But to do this, the chemical structure of the toxin must be known precisely. So research needs the natural poison after all. She has to milk the animals or take out their poison glands. It therefore takes a long time for an animal poison to become an effective drug. Because there is a challenge in pharmacology: Medicines always have to contain the same substances in exactly the same dosage. Especially when there are very toxic substances.

Few drugs based on animal poisons

The pharmaceutical industry has largely withdrawn from research with animal poisons. It avoids the financial risk of developing such substances into effective drugs. And partly because patients are not ready to take part in studies in which, for example, highly effective snake venom is used. The EU, on the other hand, invested in animal poison research: from 2011 to 2015 it supported scientists in the Venomics research project with six million euros. Around 25,000 toxins from all animal classes were examined in order to make them accessible in a database for pharmaceutical developments. But currently there are almost no animal poisons to be found in our pharmacies. Often, their dosage or application is difficult, and the line between deadly and useful is too fine.

Broadcasts on the topic

  • Healing with animal poisons. Good to know, April 17th, 2021 at 7:00 p.m., BR television
  • Animal poisons - natural remedies in medicine. radioWissen, November 6th, 2020 at 9:05 am, Bayern 2