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“Snakes are sometimes perceived as evil, but they are also perceived as Medicine”
Without the development of different medicines, life would be difficult as it would become extremely hard to fight off different illnesses, infections, and diseases. How could humans exist without the presence of medicine? Well· venom is one of the biggest contributors to medicinal treatment for a variety of diseases which will be explained further in the essay.
Venom is a chemical that is secreted from an insect or animals’ body to defend themselves, to capture their prey or for some organisms, for digestion.
The chemical consists of toxins that are injected into the organism’s bloodstream to cause damage, intending to kill the organisms for somewhat reason. Venom can be associated with spines, teeth, stings or other piercing devices to inject venom into their opposing organisms’ bodies. Venom is made from a collection of enzymes, toxins and non-toxic substances that work together to carry out their specialised job.
Venom is deadly! It clots blood by triggering the clotting factor cascade. The clotting of blood is very threatening due to red blood cells not being able to get to muscles to diffuse oxygen during aerobic respiration, because of this, muscles, tissues and organs will fail due to an oxygen deficiency so the brain will shut down and the organism will die!
These are the types of venom that can kill creatures in less than a few minutes determined by their toxicity.
Venom toxicity depends on the size of the organism, energy requirements and environmental dimensionality more than on prey size.
Venom was originated approximately 170 million years ago when there was only one type of venom. This is a group called Toxicofera, which is Greek for “those who bear toxins”.
The Toxicofera group (which is a class in Classification) has then differentiated into a wide spread of venoms that we now know and see in organisms today. The original Toxicoferan venom was created from very simple proteins that were prepared by a pair of glands. Through recent studies, the use of nuclear gene sequences discovered that the presence of similar proteins was in several lizards from different species. Which supports that venom originated from one venom, which was Toxicofera. In classification, Toxicofera (class) slips into types of orders which are called Serpentes (snakes), Mosasauroidea (extinct lizard), Anguimorpha (lizard) and Iguanomorpha (Iguana).
To the right is a diagram of the classification of the Toxicofera (class), the Squamata (family) and the rest is the orders which are Serpentes, Mosasauroidea, Anguimorpha, and Iguanomorpha.
Venom was used as a medicine in 360 B.C by individuals in ancient Greece. However, without the knowledge and impacts after injecting the venom into the bloodstream. The venom would cause the individual to sadly pass away due to the circumstances. However, the Greeks did conclude that venom could be used as an antidote. During the Roman Empire, venom was added into medicines that were used to treat a few infectious diseases, for example, smallpox, fevers, and leprosy, etc. Besides this, it was not used until the 19th century. Venom was studied to see if it can be used medically by a scientist named Albert Calmette. Calmette injected tiny amounts of venom into animals and using their blood as an antidote. He then went to develop the first antivenom for snake venom in 1895.
Organisms produce venom for a reason, maybe it’s for digestion, maybe it’s to attack prey. We don’t know what they are producing it for until they have carried out that particular process. A few organisms that produce venom that I will be talking about are· King Cobra, Deathstalker Scorpion, Box Jellyfish, Marbled Cone Snail, Blue-Ringed Octopus, and The Brazilian Wandering Spider. Animals/Insects etc most of the time produce venom as a defence mechanism to protect their family/food or territory. This is an ability that has been developed for millions of years. Organisms produce venom due to a random mutation that has occurred in the gene. This provides the species an advantage. Organisms from the same species are immune to their venom yet from other species, the organism would probably be affected. Homosapien’s can be immune to some venom which is discussed later.
Human Deaths/Encounters with these chosen organisms
King Cobra encounter- A man named Yuttapong Chaibooddee was bitten by a king cobra in Thailand as he was performing in front of a crowd. Shortly after the bite, Chaibooddee collapsed to the floor unconscious and eventually stopped breathing. He was rushed to the hospital and pumped with antivenom. The man survived!
Box Jellyfish death- A 20-year-old German woman was stung by a box jellyfish at a Thai resort. The woman was suspected to be tangled in the jellyfish’s tentacles and killed by the venom that can kill an adult in minutes.
Deathstalker Scorpion encounter- A 21-year-old soldier from Israel had been bitten by a deathstalker scorpion as it was hiding in his jeans, he did not realise he had been bitten until he started to develop sharp pains in his leg. He realised he had been bitten until he took his jeans off and discovered the scorpion. He just received slight swelling and pain in his leg.
Marbled Cone Snail encounter- A 25-year-old was walking barefoot in shallow water when he encounters a cone snail. The cone snail has a hook at the end to catch and kill prey and the worker was unlucky enough have been stung by the snail. The hook pierced his skin, injecting deadly venom into his body which could be fatal. He was rushed to the hospital and survived.
Blue-ringed Octopus encounter- Mitchell Ogg, who is 28-years-old, survives a bite from this extremely venomous octopus that can kill over 20 people with one bite. He was pulling the crayfish pot from out the water when he was struck by the octopus and it has stung his foot. Luckily, there were navy paramedics on board to treat the stung until he was brought to the hospital.
Brazilian Wandering Spider encounter- If a human encounter’s this spider and is bitten, this is very serious and must be treated immediately. After 30 minutes or so after the bite, the human will experience irregular heartbeat, nausea, low/high blood pressure, etc. This is life-threatening and must seek medical attention.
Venom has many potentials uses as it is continuously being researched to find the best doses, behaviours and how efficient they are for medical treatment.
Here are a few potentials uses of venom
Here, I will be discussing each venomous organism and how each venom interacts at a cellular and chemical level.
King cobras are one of the deadliest snakes in the world that can kill 20 human adults in one bite. This is due to the amount of neurotoxin given by one bite, which is around two-tenths of a fluid ounce. The venom from this snake -when added to healthy blood- clots the blood exceedingly fast which is very bad for the human body. King Cobra venom consists of lots of proteins (phospholipase, protease, hyaluronidases, LAAO, lectins, etc). This causes blood to clot. An example is a heart. If the blood is very viscous due to the venom, then when the heart undergoes systole, atrial diastole, and ventricular diastole, the blood travelling around the body would be very difficult to reach the capillaries to undergo diffusion because of its solid-liquid structure. Oxygen and nutrients will not be able to diffuse in the cardiac muscle from the coronary artery (which surrounds the heart) because of the slow-moving blood. The body requires a high demand for oxygen and nutrients to work. However, without this, the body will shut down. So, if the blood Is too compact, the heart will not be able to get enough oxygen and nutrients. The cardiac cycle will not occur which leaves the body to its only option to shut down due to a deficiency of oxygen and nutrients. Without the diffusion of oxygen into the blood, the oxyhaemoglobin cannot be transported through the body which means that the blood cannot carry the oxygen supply to the muscles which predominantly keeps the muscles contracting and prevents them from fatiguing/becoming damaged due to lack of oxygen. Without the presence of oxygen in the blood due to decreased diffusion of oxygen, then waste products cannot be exited from the body. This means there will be an increase in carbon dioxide in the bloodstream and a build-up of lactate. An increase of carbon dioxide makes the pH more acidic. This changes the partial pressure of haemoglobin and can denature enzymes by changing the tertiary structure within the blood. Changing the pH will negatively affect the human body. King cobra venom (LAAO which is L-amino acid oxidase) is an enzyme that can be used as a medical treatment. L-amino acid oxidase has been proven to have very potent cytotoxicity against human tumour cells. This was because of the apoptosis of cells by the enzyme. The enzyme enters the cells through intrinsic protein pathways for the apoptosis process to occur. Snake venom has been used to treat thrombosis as it reduces the effect of platelet aggregation which reduces the effect of a blood clot. Captopril is a drug that is made from using snake venom. The drug acts as an inhibitor which was developed from a peptide found in snake venom. Captopril prevents excessive vein constriction by blocking/inhibiting the pathways that cause it, as vein constriction increases blood pressure, and high blood pressure (or hypertension) is a common health defect in the population. Captopril is an oral drug (which goes under angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) that treats hypertension. Hypertension is caused by the pressure building up against the wall of the blood vessel when the arteries become smaller thus increasing blood pressure (Hypertension). Using this as a medical treatment is very effective because it will reduce the effect of high blood pressure. Overall, the effect of snake venom used for medical treatment is very successful. This is because it can treat many cancers by using LAAO for apoptosis of tumour cells and reducing the effect of thrombosis because of this enzyme. Also, because of captopril which comes from snake venom, it reduces high blood pressure which is useful for easing many ailments.
The Box jellyfish is the most venomous organism on the planet! It is so venomous; it will kill you in two minutes if the tentacle touches you. In the tentacles are venom-containing cells called nematocysts. A doctor named Jamie Seymour has extracted various chemicals from the venom by using ethanol. The venom that the Box jellyfish produces attacks the human heart and results in the body to experience cardiac arrest. The doctor then concluded that as the venom affects the heart, compounds from the venom can be used to treat heart complications. This involves creating medication/drugs, for example, a non-addictive painkiller. However, it is hard to establish this due to the venom being so toxic, as it kills humans in under two minutes. Due to this, scientists do not have the time to research about the venom and how it affects the healthy, living body. The doctor has also concluded that when separating the compound from the venom, it kills bacteria that is resistant to some antibiotics. This then allows doctors to prescribe antibiotics that have previously been resistant to some bacteria. Bacteria’s main function is survival and mutation through a process called Binary Fission. The use of antibiotics can decrease this process if they’ve taken as advised. However, if we overuse antibiotics then bacteria cells start to become resistant and harder to stop through the use of antibiotics. This is similar to herd immunity with vaccines in humans. This is because if most people are vaccinated, then the virus cannot infect humans so it will die out. So, if some bacteria are resistant to a certain antibiotic, then bacteria will all mutate to become resistant to the antibiotic which leads to it becoming insufficient.
In 2012, research was completed on the box jellyfish venom. The research conducted by scientists illustrates that the sting can be reduced and controlled. The background research that was completed included a mouse in which had been stung by a jellyfish. Scientists were examining different ways to combat the deadly sting and one of these ways was by using a compound called zinc-gluconate. This compound keeps the rhythmic contraction of the heart to prevent it from bleeding out of the damaged blood vessel. One day this can be used to treat jellyfish stings once there is enough evidence to support this study in testing on larger scale mammals. A female swimmer attempted to swim 103 miles down the coastline from Florida to Cuba when she was stopped in her tracks by a jellyfish sting. At that moment, she was provided with a topical version of zinc-gluconate which reduced pain and swelling as she went on to complete her journey.
Even though there isn’t enough evidence to finalise that box jellyfish can be used as a medicine, we have a rough estimate at what the jellyfish venom can be used for and if it is possible to be used in the medicinal industry. The venom can be used to make non-addictive painkillers and can treat heart complications which would be beneficial to the population. With this in mind, we would increase life expectancy and lower death rates. In addition, with the discovery of the nematocysts, we can conclude that the venom extracted, can be used to kill bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This then lets people use antibiotics again that has previously been resistant to bacteria which is an advantage (if used in the right manner). Overall, venom for jellyfish can potentially be used as a medicine.
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