Biotech Scrutiny of Venoms

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-third in a series - V is for Venoms

Here is an enlightening excerpt in our quest to study biotech as laypeople, written in 2013 by Dhananjaya Bhadrapura Lakkappa, a scientist who was then working in the Toxinology Lab, School of Chemical and Bio-Technology of SASTRA University in southern India:

Biotechnology is the application of science and technology to living organisms, as well as parts, products and models thereof, to develop useful products to improve human lives and its environment. By application of modern advanced technologies, manipulating and thus intervening the biological organisms or biological process, has thus far brought revolution in production of useful products used profitably in health care (medicine, diagnosis etc.) agriculture, animal husbandry and environmental implications, thus having a dramatic effect on the world economy and society. In these lines in the recent years the use of animal venoms and its toxins – a natural product, as a source of material for biotechnological application has received much attention from pharmaceutical industry and experts in the field of applied research. (ref)

This researcher understands his field of work and his mission, and though his English has some quirks to us, he helps us to understand the positive goals of the world-changing field of biotech with a special focus on venom toxins. In his article he explains that venoms are— “a highly evolved cocktail of biologically active proteins/peptides and other molecules… used by the organism to immobilize, capture their prey and to defend against its predators.”

He notes that the venom interacts with specific molecular targets with ‘Cruise missile’ precision, and understanding those pathways has brought new insights in biotech. He gives credit as well to ancient medical practices and homeopathy that used, for example, cobra venom to treat joint pain, inflammation and arthritis. He then catalogs numerous drugs that have been developed in labs to treat a spectrum of diseases and conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Biotech is on the move!

Venoms of snakes, spiders and other organisms are a fertile area for the discovery of novel products with biotech and drug applications for such things as high blood pressure, cancer, immune system disorders, and syndromes like Guillain-Barre where muscle weakness ends in paralysis. It is very interesting to think of researchers using the neurotoxin of a snake that paralyzes its victim to reverse engineer its properties to prevent paralysis.

With potentially 20 million distinct venom toxins that have specific target areas and effects, and with only about 1000 of them analyzed so far by scientists, we can look for much greater help from venoms in the future.

This topic brings to mind that the snake is the symbol of healing embraced by medical societies over the ages. Although two snakes on a pole topped with wings, known as the caduceus, is mistakenly used by some societies, its mythological origin has no association with medicine or healing.

The internet mostly says that the serpent on the pole is the rod of Asclepius. In Greek mythology, he was Apollo’s son. Apollo was an important god whose domain included medicine as well as sun, light, art, music, plague, knowledge, and other areas of life.

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The cult of Asclepius became popular about 300 BC and over time the snake and the rod were combined as the expression of healing. Theories as to why this occurred include the Biblical account of Moses lifting the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness so that if any of the rebellious, sinful Israelites would look at it, they would be healed from the snake bites enforced by God on them as discipline. This theory is what we would call the explanation. (Num 21:9)

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I wonder if the thoroughly secular World Health Organization or EMS or medical societies would acknowledge that their iconic serpent on a pole pictures, ultimately, Jesus Christ, who stated, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jhn 3:14-16)

This Old Testament event foreshadowed the lifting of Christ in crucifixion, about which he said, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)

He was explaining that he would be obedient to death and suffer cruel judgment at the Father’s Hands, becoming sin to suffer in our place. His obedience won our victory. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21)

The serpent is first introduced in Genesis 3 as the embodiment of Satanic evil, yet is turned from that root meaning to depict victory over sin and death when He became sin who knew no sin.

It made no sense to the Israelites to lift their eyes to the bronze serpent but they gladly did it to avoid dying. It was a step of faith.

Some commentators suggest that the bronze serpent was attached to the pole horizontally to picture the cross of Christ. We cannot know how it was presented to the Jews then.

Today, those who take the step of faith to look to Christ crucified, understand they cannot save themselves from sin. We need a Savior. And his obedience— learned by what he suffered (Heb 5:8) — gives us confidence that he knows exactly how to intercede for us.

As biotech finds healing elements in snake toxins and we celebrate new means of deliverance from diseases, let us even more shout the praises of the bronze serpent on the pole who gives us everlasting life.

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...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1

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Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

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As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

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