Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 7th 2015 Contents A23
Monday, September 7, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
It is estimated that, every year
worldwide, over 100,000 people
die from snake bites. This does
not include the painful and some-
times fatal effects of the
bites/stings of insects, arachnids
and other reptiles.
Poisonous snakes inject venom
into their prey and the effects are
immediate and deadly, allowing
them to dispose of the unfortunate
creature captured with a minimum
Scientists have been examining
both the effects of the toxins and
the efficacy of the targeted delivery
with a view to creating new drugs
to save lives.
Many creatures create venom as
part of their defence and or feed-
Venom comprises a cocktail of
toxins which may vary in number
from 20 to 100.
Toxins are very small and thus it
is hard for the body s immune sys-
tem to detect and neutralise them.
They have evolved over millions of
years to be very selective in attach-
ing themselves to specific targets
within the body.
In other words they are exceed-
ingly efficient target-specific deliv-
ery mechanisms. This property has
long been a goal of medicine; one
that can significantly reduce the
negative side effects associated
Further, the analgesic or pain-
killing and anti-clotting properties
of toxins are significant and desir-
able characteristics of drugs which
are used to treat a variety of dis-
It is not surprising then, that
venom research is a flourishing
enterprise and more and more rare
creatures are being sought to
investigate the potential value of
Venom-based research has
already yielded important and
highly-used drugs and several
promising ones are in the horizon.
The venom of the Brazilian pit
viper is the source of one of the
most commonly prescribed drugs
for hypertension; captopril. It is
also used as a treatment for heart
failure and to improve survival rates
after a heart attack.
Prof Manjunatha of the National
University of Singapore is leading a
research team that is investigating
the toxins found in the venom of
the King Cobra for the treatment
of chronic pain, as the toxins do
cause numbing of the nerves.
The Food and Drug Administra-
tion of the USA has approved
venom-based drugs for the treat-
ment of hypertension, heart condi-
tions, chronic pain and diabetes.
Research is also being actively
pursued to develop other venom-
based drugs to treat stroke,
prostate cancer, HIV and multiple
Absolutely necessary for this line
of research is a sustained supply of
There are thus specialised facili-
ties or serpentariums where snakes
are kept for the purpose of venom-
collection or milking.
This very dangerous task of
milking snakes is routinely done to
provide research labs with an ade-
quate supply of venom.
This process involves the holding
of the snake head and allowing it
to sink its fangs into a container
with specially designed latex cover.
The fangs pierce the cover and
the injected venom falls into the
container. Snake milkers are a
highly-specialised group, earning
on the average, about US$2,500 per
month. A degree in biochemistry
or herpetology is the academic
requirement for the job of snake
The extraction of poison from
spiders is different, but no less
dangerous and involves the dissec-
tion of the glands that contain the
It is an instructive lesson for
non-scientists. By observing how
venom kills, lessons are learnt on
how to save lives.
Even more ironic is the fact that
these deadly poisons can be used
to develop drugs that are being
used to save and to improve the
quality of lives.
Indeed, this learning could and
should be carried over to all
aspects of our lives.
We can and must utilise social
venom, aimed at creating pain, dis-
tress and decay, as a healing salve
for social cohesion and progress.
Everybody is worried about
our foreign exchange bal-
ance. How much do we have
left? Where is it going? How
long will it last? We are behav-
ing like a distressed spender
with just a few dollars more left
in his savings account. And if
we don't have it, what are we
going to do? Eat grass? Green
guava? Curry fig?
Well sirs, madams, we are
the one. We are the big forex
spenders. We are the one eat-
ing, drinking, gassing out, giving
away, dumping into our
garbage and rubbish dumps our
hard-earned forex dollars. Not
anybody else. It's us. That is
where our foreign exchange
earnings are going.
When we go to the parlour,
shops, groceries, supermarkets,
mini-malls, malls and mega-
plexes, what do you buy to eat?
And drink? Every little chomp
of your burger and pack juice,
every molecule of fats, proteins,
salt and carbohydrate is worth
a unit of forex. Because most of
these foods, or their ingredi-
ents, come from foreign.
We are the human animal
chomping away, bit by bit, at
the corn, the growing mash of
our forex. Not the CEO of
British Gas, not the head of the
Federal Reserve in the United
States, and certainly not the
CEO of Republic Bank.
Sit alongside the highway
and watch. Cars zooming by up
and down. Every strip of plastic,
molecule of rubber, pound of
iron, alloy of copper in your car
is a drip of acid eating away at
our forex dollar. And every time
we step on our accelerators,
there we go, speeding, overtak-
ing, like the world coming to an
end; there we go, we are firing
from our mufflers the tiny par-
ticles of a US dollar, Euro,
pound, Canadian dollar.
Each millilitre of gas we con-
sume so willy-nilly on our hectic
highways is worth a dime or
two of potential forex. We are
pressing, accelerating our forex
into the ambient air.
And each disposable pack,
bottle, box, jar, diaper, TV, com-
puter, ipad, shoe, button, dress,
whisky and rum bottle cap we
dump into the garbage, with no
prospect of reuse or recycling,
what we call waste, is a penny
in forex that could have been
saved and gained. We are shov-
elling millions of dollars of forex
into the soil at Beetham, Clax-
ton Bay, Guanapo, Guapo; and
into our rivers and seas.
And these contracts. The
biggest contractor operating on
our soil now is OAS. But it has
now gone into bankruptcy. How
much more billions or millions
are we going to extract from
our Treasury to convert to forex
to pay them? For a highway
project that was assessed by
the Inter American Develop-
ment Bank to be too expensive,
over-designed, refusing to en-
tertain the funding of it.
The debauchery of waste all
over our land is the cancer eat-
ing into the body economic of
our foreign exchange.
Not that we must not buy
foreign, purchase foreign con-
tracts, trade as far and wide as
we can. But, the splurge must
come to an end. The unneces-
sary over-consumption of
goods and services; particularly
Here is a fact to sleep on.
T&T can no longer be competi-
tive on the oil and gas markets.
No matter how much we beat
the old mule of the upstream
sector. There is too much oil
gas, shale gas everywhere and
anywhere in the world.
We are the cancer eating
into our forex. And any new
government coming to power
after September 7, 2015, must
know how to talk to the people,
retrain us in our consumption
SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
USING VENOM TO SAVE LIVES Who's eating up our forex?
The Food and Drug Administration of the USA has approved venom-based drugs for
the treatment of hypertension, heart conditions, chronic pain and diabetes.
Research is also being actively pursued to develop other venom-based drugs to
treat stroke, prostate cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.
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