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Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox

This audio book was six hours in duration and took me half a day.  This is a shorter  audio book than most. My average audio book is nine or ten hours in length. It’s nice getting through audio books in less than a day and starting a new one. I feel like I learned a great deal in less than day. Audio books are such a powerful medium!

It was well-organized, detailed and easy to understand. It is the authors’ first published nonfiction book. She is a research scientist with a PhD in Molecular biology and lives in Hawaii. She is also a popular blogger for Discover Magazine.  She’s done some pretty fascinating research. She knows her science and it shows.

Venom is a modified saliva. She goes into exquisite detail about the personal lives of terrestrial and aquatic venomous animals from all over the world plus the mechanism of action behind their specified venom for their prey species. She tells the story of numerous compounds found in venom that have been turned into FDA approved drugs. I wonder how many other compounds there are in venom that can help people.

Another great part about this book was the section on SI (Self-Immunization). Venomous snake keepers inject themselves with venom in order to protect themselves. If a hot herper happens to get bit than their adaptive immune system will remember how to fight off the venom. There is actually an SI blog. I enjoyed reading this blog and watching the videos. I even started following the blog myself. Obviously I do not recommend this.

I enjoyed the ending. I like how she pushes for conservation of wildlife habitats. I happen to agree. She is intelligent but passionate and dedicated. My favorite parts were on the cone snail (conotoxin), blue ring octopus (tetrodotoxin) and the assassin caterpillar (hematoxic).

Some of what I learned:

  1. The first scientist to manufacturer anti-venom serum (anti-venin) was Dr. Albert Calmette of the Pastuer Institute in 1896 using horses to create antibodies which were purified and used to treat cobra envenomation victims in Asia.
  2. Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium practiced self immunization with snake venom and lived to be 101 years old.
  3. The bullet ant has the most painful bite in the world. Not the first time I’ve heard that.
  4. Mongooses are resistant to cobra venom because there is an amino acid replacement in the binding site of their nicotinic cholinergic receptor. This replacement is a positively charged amino acid where there is normally an uncharged one. This prevents the alpha neuro-toxin from binding and causing paralysis.

pic: courtesy


All warfare is based on deception.

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