Most of us think of poisonous spiders, snakes, and jellyfish as creatures to avoid. Their highly evolved venoms can target specific cells and stop hearts or paralyse limbs.
But scientists are now beginning to understand how useful these abilities could be for medicine – if they are understood and properly deployed.
Dr Pierre Escoubas is one of the experts leading a project called VENOMICS, which aims to build a database of all the venoms in the world, in the hope of developing new, targetted treatments for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
By capturing animals and ‘milking’ them for their poison, he and his team are slowly building a map of this untapped resource.
While scientists have identified around 4,000 different venom molecules so far, Dr Escoubas estimates there could be as many as 40 million, all with potentially unique properties.
Reporter Dr Joff Lacey joins the VENOMICS team in the south of France, where he hunts for deadly scorpions and makes a hair-raising visit to the project’s tarantula farm.
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