APR 19, 2016 9:10 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.
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