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Venoms for all reasons

Play  Introduction to venoms and toxins with Graham Nicholson
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Associate Professor Graham Nicholson, from the University of Technology Sydney, has been studying venoms and toxins for over 20 years and gives a bite-size version of his latest research.     
Venoms and toxins are complex compounds that are very selective and highly potent. Different organisms have different ranges of chemicals and even among closely related venomous species, these chemicals may differ in distinct ways, depending on their purpose.
Some venoms and toxins are for the animal’s protection, and these tend to contain chemicals that create pain in the victim. However if the aim is to capture, the venoms commonly contain neurotoxins (to disrupt the nervous system) or haemolytic toxins (to promote bleeding). Other organisms, such as spiders, release digestive enzymes since they must predigest their prey in order to take in any nutrition.
Not surprisingly, since the compounds in venoms and toxins have been refined over millions of years to be highly potent and highly selective, they are of great interest to research pharacologists since they have potential benefits in the search for new compounds with potential therapeutic or agricultural actions.
Dr Nicholson is specifically looking for developing new pharmacological drugs and insecticides from spider venom. At present they have patents on one such compound that a US-based company is developing for use as an insecticide that specifically attacks insects with potential for use in such insecticide hungry crops as cotton. If successful, it would do away with the need for present day chemicals that leach into waterways and harm fish and other vertebrates.

Text: V.B. October 08

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