APR 19, 2016 09:10 AM PDT

What Makes Snake Venom so Lethal?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Crippling fear of snakes, called ophidiophobia, affects nearly a third of adult humans. This makes it the most commonly reported phobia. Although snakes are limbless creatures with limited mobility, they have evolved to produce highly toxic venoms that can kill preys many times their size.

Similar to other natural toxins, snake venom is a deadly concoction of proteins and peptides that interfere with the prey's body response. Scientists divide snake venom into four main types: hemotoxic, cytotoxic, neurotoxic, and proteolytic. But in reality, most snakes can make venom that's a combination of these pathways.

Given its deadly effects, it's hard to believe that snake venom can actually be of great use in medicine. As it turns out, some of the most active components of toxins affect the same enzymes and pathways in certain diseases. Aside from yielding the key chemical compound, toxins also lead scientists to better understand how certain diseases work, what pathways are affected, and what proteins may be curative.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 15, 2018
Videos
JUL 15, 2018
Can Animals Appreciate Music?
  Our appreciation of rhyme and rhythm might not be unique. Animals may also be music lovers. Using music studies done on crocodiles, the researchers ...
JUL 22, 2018
Videos
JUL 22, 2018
No language needed
If you don’t have language, how do you think? If you know fewer words, can you think fewer thoughts? Or perhaps less complex thoughts? That’s t...
JUL 23, 2018
Videos
JUL 23, 2018
Rare Diseases That Changed Medicine
In the US, a disease is considered rare when it affects fewer than 200,000 people in the whole country. But, in Europe, a disease is considered rare when i...
JUL 23, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 23, 2018
Earth is Pretty Small Compared to Everything Else in Space
To you and I, the Earth might seem like a large place. But in astronomical terms, our planet is actually quite small. Comparatively, the gas giant planets...
JUL 26, 2018
Videos
JUL 26, 2018
Most Military Deaths Are Not From Combat
Since 2006, 16,000 military service members have died while on active duty. While some were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, 72% of those deaths o...
AUG 13, 2018
Videos
AUG 13, 2018
One Cell was Consumed by Another in a Evolutionary Leap
A process called endosymbiosis may have given evolution a lot of help....
Loading Comments...