April 22, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Venom for Good

Researchers are looking into possible cures for pain, diabetes and cancer in natural toxins.

Folk medicine has used the bites and stings of nasty animals for centuries. Science is just catching up with that. For too long, pharmacy companies have thought they had to design healing molecules from scratch. But in a News Feature in PNAS, Amy McDermott writes, “Venom [is] back in vogue as a wellspring for drug candidates.” After telling a remarkable story of cancer treatment using scorpion venom at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, McDermott backs into her theme: there is a natural pharmacy store out in the world.

Now, the pharmaceutical industry has a growing interest in venom, as some companies opt to return to drug discovery inspired by natural compounds, a trend that fell out of fashion about 40 years ago….

Often these toxins have clear potential to treat human disease. She [biochemist Helena Safavi at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark] calls them a “treasure trove for biomedical explorations.”

Forty years ago, natural compounds were tried but didn’t work, because they lacked biological context. Successes today come from designing ways of slowing down the action of peptides in the venom, giving it more time to act. But folk medicine practitioners have long incorporated venom in their treatments, without modern science and molecular biology:

People have used venoms as medicines for thousands of years. In India, needles dipped in snake venom feature in a fiery kind of Ayurvedic acupuncture to treat joint pain and inflammation. In China, dried venoms from the lumpy brown skins of toads are traditional anticancer treatments. In Southeastern Mexico, a beverage of mashed tarantula, alcohol, and herbs traditionally treats chest pain and asthma. Western medicine’s interest in venom grew from traditional uses and blossomed in the early 1980s with the advent of the first venom-derived drug, captopril.

Now that scientists have better tools to study venoms at the molecular level, they can employ them in clinical trials to ensure safety and efficacy. Natural medicines have several advantages over artificial therapeutics:

Peptides and proteins are stable in the body, and highly specific, often acting on just one or several kinds of membrane protein, ion channel, enzyme, or other binding site.

The race is on to find medicines in the mouths of snakes, the stings of bees and scorpions, and the stingers of cone snails!

What’s Darwin Got to Do With It?

McDermott turns the crank to let Charlie pop out of his Joker box for no good reason:

  • Chuck-in-the-Box keeps popping up uninvited.

    “[T]he scorpion venom peptide chlorotoxin, is just one of many untapped, and potentially lifesaving toxins in the venom of snakes, scorpions, spiders, and other creatures, honed through millions of years of evolution to immobilize prey or fend off predators.” My, oh my, those poor creatures must have all gone extinct waiting for the right mutations to appear by chance over millions of years.

  • “Biting, stinging organisms have had millions of years to evolve an array of toxins that act on specific physiological pathways.” Even if they had millions of years, animals could not invent one toxin, let alone an array. This is how evolutionists talk; they use unproveable assertions, using natural selection like a magic wand and millions of years like their abracadabra. They cry out, ‘Aminocamino!’ and the peptide appears!
  • “Take spiders, for example: They’ve had 400 million years to evolve hundreds of venom peptides, many of which act on nervous system ion channels.” Now really; does that piece of Darwinese add anything of value to the science of helping people with new medicines?

If evolutionists would kick the Darwine habit and focus on helping people, the world would be a better place.

How do creationists explain venoms, if the original creation was very good? Instead of imagining bottom-up innovation, which defies all probability and reason, think of ‘top down’ variation from molecules that originally had a good purpose. The physical reality of hormesis means that small doses of some molecules can be beneficial, but larger doses can be harmful. The original creation was very good, without predation and death. After the curse, these molecules, which had beneficial functions in the beginning, now had new functions to deal with: defense and predation. Those that worked better at those functions became more concentrated. Venoms that mutated (i.e., devolved) might have worked better for protection or obtaining food. Nothing new was invented from scratch; it just got concentrated so that the animal could eat or avoid being eaten. Modification of existing structures and molecules, a decay process, would not have taken millions of years.

To the degree the curse involved punishment (like thorns on plants), God could have modified good things for harm. To the extent the curse involved God relaxing the controls on things (or to the extent God granted Satan limited ability to twist functions of things, like making spears out of proverbial plowshares), the original good creation could have become distorted into a “war of all against all” until each biome settled into a stable ecosystem or “balance of nature.” Nevertheless, God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). And while man carried on in a corrupted but still functioning world, God was planning a strategy to redeem man from the curse and give him eternal life, which the first pair would have inherited had they not rebelled. This all took place in a few thousands of years, not billions, and will come to its consummation sooner than modern man thinks. The world is rushing toward the last days that were foretold, and in the new creation, there will be no harmful venoms: “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den” (Isaiah 11:8).

 

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