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Animals produce toxins and venoms of incredible variety. The venoms of the Indian cobra and the inland taipan of Australia both produce paralysis, but do so in completely different ways. And the poison dart frogs of Central America produce paralysis in a manner that is different from either of those snakes, but the same as that of the puffer fish that is eaten as a delicacy in restaurants in Japan, and the blue ringed octopus that is found in Australian tidepools. Most rattlesnake venoms on the other hand do not produce paralysis, but cause tissue destruction and hemorrhaging. And black widow spiders produce three separate toxins, one for vertebrates, one for insects, and one for crustaceans! Because of their unique properties, toxins and venoms have been used to develop pharmaceuticals. A compound isolated from the venom of the gila monster has been used to develop a drug for Type II diabetics, a cone snail toxin has been used to develop a pain reliever, a protein from the venom of the death stalker scorpion has been used to treat brain tumors, and the venom of the saw scaled viper has been used to develop several anticoagulant drugs. This course will begin by providing a background in the physiology necessary to understand the mechanisms of animal toxins and venoms, then continue with a survey of a variety of animals, describing how the toxins and venoms produce their effects, and how they have been used in research and medicine.
Instructor(s): Tom McDonald
Tom McDonald received his undergraduate and masters degrees from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been a college professor for the past 45 years, and did research on scorpion venoms at the University of Arizona Medical School. Now in semi-retirement he teaches human anatomy & physiology twice a week to future doctors, nurses, and pharmacists at Pima Community College.
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