TIL: A Venomous Animal May Save Your Life

It might surprise you that some of the world’s deadliest animals save millions of human lives—one day they might even save yours. In this week’s Today I Learned, National Geographic Emerging Explorer Zoltan Takacs reveals how venomous creatures could be the future of pharmacology.

More than a hundred million years of evolution have honed venom into the only natural substance that can take a life in less than a minute. Surprisingly, it’s this deadly efficiency that makes it the perfect template for new medicines: Venom toxins target key life functions, bind tightly, and aim with high specificity—all qualities you want in a drug. They work in a way that's similar to most medicines, targeting vital bodily systems by fitting into specific molecules like a key into a lock.

Today we have about 20 medications derived from venom, treating everything from heart failure to chronic pain. Most of these medications are made with toxins synthetically produced in the lab, while a few are derived by milking the venom of captive snakes. With more than a hundred thousand venomous creatures in the world, these 20 medications could be just the beginning.

PRODUCER/EDITOR: Laurence Alexander
SERIES PRODUCER: Christopher Mattle