Published On August 11, 2022
Plants have long been a source of raw materials for making medicines, including both traditional therapies and conventional drugs. Yet chemicals produced by animals—especially the venom that some 15% to 30% of all species use for defense and hunting—remain largely untapped. The Food and Drug Administration has approved just a handful of drugs derived from venom, including the antihypertensive Captopril (from the Brazilian viper) and the diabetes medication exenatide (from the Gila monster).
But with more than 200,000 venomous species walking the earth, many new therapeutics await discovery, says chemical biologist Mandë Holford, an associate professor of chemistry at CUNY Hunter College. Holford studies the medicinal potential of peptides in venom from marine snails. She explains that isolating the potentially curative components in animal toxins is becoming less challenging because of the emergence of techniques that include transcriptomics, which allows scientists to survey a venom’s RNA sequence in hours instead of months. “That has been game changing. We now have the tools to mine these animals’ arsenals to understand what’s there and figure out how we can use it,” says Holford. “This will help us make more effective drugs, faster.”
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