June 15, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Are Natural Poisons Health Cures in Disguise?

Three recent stories are suggesting that natural toxins may be too much of a good thing:

  1. Snail Trail:  John Roach in National Geographic News wrote about new painkillers and drugs being developed from toxic snail venoms.  Cone snails create an array of hundreds of unique chemical compounds (see 10/22/2003 entry).
  2. Fungus Among Them:  A fungus shows promise for controlling malaria mosquitos.  It appears to be harmless to humans.  Story on Science Daily.
  3. Lockjaw Therapy:  Researchers in Barcelona are discovering that tetanus toxin has therapeutic properties in treatment for neurodegenerative disorders, according to EurekAlert.

A common operational paradigm in nature appears to be control by resistance: initiator and repressor, agonist and antagonist, accelerator and brake.  Another is hormesis (see 02/12/2003 entry): i.e., that a little is good, but more is not better.  Taken together, these principles suggest that many poisons and toxins only become “evil” to our sensibilities when they get out of control.
    A dynamic community of interacting organisms needs checks and balances.  These are best understood by looking at the big picture, a view called systems biology – a perspective implicit with design reasoning.  As a corollary, relationships that could have been harmonious originally may have begun to wreak havoc when out of balance.  Regardless, there may be healthy treasures to mine in things we once considered agents of suffering.

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Categories: Health

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