The economic benefits of reptiles have been known for centuries but modern researchers are just beginning to discover that useful medicines may also lie hidden in the molecular nooks and crannies of reptilian biochemistry.
Why Don’t Turtles Age?
Researchers have recently discovered that a turtle’s organs do not gradually break down or become less efficient as they age, unlike most animals. It was found that the liver, lungs, and kidneys of a centenarian turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of an immature turtle. This has inspired geneticists to begin to search the turtle’s genome for longevity genes with an eye towards perhaps applying their findings someday and somehow to humans.
Turning Toxins into Medicine
Although the vast majority of snakes are not dangerous to humans, about 750 species worldwide are venomous and of those, only about 250 species have venom powerful enough to kill a human. Although snakebite mortality worldwide is estimated at 30,000-40,000 people per year, the majority of these deaths (25,000-35,000) occur in Southeast Asia, owing to poor medical treatment, malnutrition of victims, and a large number of venomous species.
In the United States, around 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes yearly, but only 9 to 15 people die—fewer deaths than are attributed to bee stings and lightning strikes. On the other hand, snake venom contains many active biological compounds that may be useful for a variety of medical purposes from preventing the growth of cancerous tumors, to serving as pain-killing drugs and ointments for cuts and burns.
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