Venom is a toxic secretion produced by an animal. It is observed in an extensive array of species, from insects to even mammals. Venom is produced by specialized glands associated with fangs, spines, and other piercing devices. Venom can include many different chemical structures like toxins, enzymes, proteins, steroids, and other compounds, which can cause many different effects on the body. These different components have specific purposes, which may include killing, immobilizing, and or aiding in the digestion of prey as well as act as a defense against predators.
Three Major Types of Venoms (Toxins) and How They Affect the Human Body
Not all venoms are the same. Toxins produced by any venomous animal affect particular kinds of cells. There are three major types of venoms; cytotoxins, neurotoxins, and hemotoxins.
Cytotoxins destroy body cells. This toxin kills cells in organs and body tissue and is the cause of the condition known as necrosis. This toxin helps digest or liquefy the tissue before consuming it. Also, this type of venom can cause body cells to undergo programmed cell death or commonly known as apoptosis. Tissue damage due to this venom happens at the spot of envenomation.
Neurotoxins affect the nervous system. This venom works by disturbing neurotransmitters between neurons. Neurotoxins might hinder or reduce the production of chemical signals or block its reception altogether. This kind of venom can result in paralysis, respiratory failure, and the irregular beating of the heart. Elapidae snakes like mambas, sea snakes, cobras, coral snakes, etc. are known to produce this kind of venom.
Hemotoxins are a blood toxin. Hemotoxins prevent the normal coagulation process of blood. It can cause red blood cells to not clot, causing severe internal bleeding and damaging bodily organs. On the other hand, some hemotoxins have the opposite effect; extreme blood clotting. This hinders proper blood circulation in the body and can result in heart failure. Hemotoxins are common in the family of Viperidae.
There are several other toxins not listed here, but these are three well-known varieties of toxins found in the venom of most, if not all, venomous animals.
Why is Venom Dangerous for People?
Animals make use of venom to kill, immobilize, and digest their prey or for defense. However, their venom still has similar effects on human beings.
What is the Difference Between Venom and Poison?
The terms poison and venom are both indeed toxic compounds that can harm or kill human beings; however, the main difference in terminology is how the toxin is delivered. A poison is classified as entering the body by swallowing, inhaling, or absorption through the skin. Venom is a toxin received through an envenomation, like an injection. Animals can be venomous or poisonous or even both.
Spiders and Snakes are perhaps the most notorious venomous animals; however, other animals like scorpions, spiders, centipedes, fish, octopi, jellyfish, snails, and even some mammals, are venomous.
What is the LD50?
LD50 or the Median Lethal Dose in toxicology is a measure of the lethal dose of a poison or toxin. The value of LD50 is the dose needed to execute the members of a tested population after a specific time. These figures are often utilized as a universal indicator of a compound’s acute toxicity. Low LD50 means increased toxicity.
Usually, the LD50 is determined by examinations on animals like lab mice. The preference of 50 percent lethality as a trademark keeps away the possibility of the vagueness of measuring the extremes and minimizes the amount of assessment needed. Most often, a lethal dosage differs depending on the manner of deliverance; for example, many compounds are less poisonous when absorbed by the mouth than given intravenously.
Venom and Medicine
Aside from antivenom, venom is becoming ever more useful in combating various kinds of diseases. Since these toxins target body cells or have specific functions, scientists are studying how venoms function to create drugs that can target specific body cells. Venom has been used for extremely reliable and powerful pain killers, efficient blood thinners, blood disorders, high blood pressure, heart attacks, treating cancer, treating central nervous system illnesses, to kill parasites, hinder the development of muscular dystrophy, and even more. Venom is proving to be a beneficial medical resource.
What is Antivenom?
Antivenom is a medication of antibodies. An antibody is “A protein made by plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) in response to an antigen (a substance that causes the body to make a specific immune response). Each antibody can bind to only one specific antigen. The purpose of this binding is to help destroy the antigen. Some antibodies destroy antigens directly. Others make it easier for white blood cells to destroy the antigen.” – Ref. Therefore antivenom is a serum of antibodies that is injected into the body to destroy venom.
The process is mostly unchanged since the 1800s. Scientists use a vertebrate animal, e.g., a horse or a sheep, and give them small doses of venom from a specific venomous animal. The host animal then begins to produce antibodies to destroy the toxins within its own body. The blood is then harvested without killing or harming the animal and then made into a purified serum that can be used in humans. This is how you make antivenom.
Venom can be lethal, but it is of great value to humanity. Scientists should continue to search for the many ways venom can improve the lives of all people. In the meantime, these venomous animals will keep playing a vital role in ecosystems around the world. It is time people begin to see venomous animals in a different light, but from a safe distance.