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Archive - Sep 4, 2018

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Insights into Evolutionary Biology of Deadly Venoms May Lead to Drug Advances

Venomous reptiles, bugs, and marine life have notorious reputations as dangerous, sometimes life-threatening creatures. But in a paper published in the August 31, 2018 issue of Science, first author Dr. Mandë Holford, an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (GC/CUNY) and Hunter College, details how technology and a growing understanding of the evolution of venoms are pointing the way toward entirely new classes of drugs capable of treating diabetes, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, and other conditions. According to Dr. Holford and her colleagues, venomous species account for more than 15 percent of the Earth's documented biodiversity, and they can be found in virtually all marine and terrestrial habitats. Still, researchers have studied very few venoms because, until recently, scientists lacked the appropriate technology for analyzing the tiny amounts of venom that can be extracted from these mostly small species. But innovations in omics (technologies that map the roles, relationships, and actions of an organism's molecular structure) are allowing researchers to uncover evolutionary changes and diversification among specific venomous species that could prove useful in developing new drugs capable of precisely targeting and binding to molecules that are active in certain human diseases. "Knowing more about the evolutionary history of venomous species can help us make more targeted decisions about the potential use of venom compounds in treating illnesses," said Dr. Holford. "New environments, the development of venom resistance in its prey, and other factors can cause a species to evolve in order to survive.