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Toxins: A Double-Edged Sword

Editor’s Letter

When I was an undergraduate, I remember sitting in the lecture theatre, astounded by the natural world as my professor taught us how we can utilise animal toxins for medicines. For a long time, I thought we only endeavoured to find antidotes to toxins. My naïve self would never have thought this possible. We learnt that toxins from the most obvious and least expected animals could be used to develop therapeutic drugs.

For example, did you know the duck-billed platypus, a textbook example of an egg-laying mammal, is also one of the few venomous mammals? When stung, the platypus’ venom can cause immediate, excruciating pain. Yet, scientists have found that its venom contains a hormone that could potentially be used to treat diabetes.

Even toxins from cone snails and frogs may be used to develop analgesics or cancer drugs. Who would’ve thought?

When planning this year’s editorial calendar, I find myself thinking back to this class a lot and would like to explore this topic a little further.

In this issue, we look at toxins from the natural world and consider its benefits to humanity despite the negative connotation.

First up, we have a contribution from Vanessa Lunardi on snake venoms in venom therapy. Then Tara Ng dives into plant secondary metabolites, its properties, and potential applications.

While not wholly related to venom therapy, Chang Wei and Dr Mohd Redzwan Sabran from the University of Putra Malaysia, discuss a family of fungal toxins called aflatoxins, its toxic effects, and how probiotics might have aflatoxin-reducing properties.

Evidently, toxins are a double-edged sword and what effects we reap from it depends on how much of it we’re exposed to. I hope these articles will shed a light on how we can overturn toxins into something useful and in cases where we can’t, we find solutions to combat its adverse effects.

In other news, some cool research highlights we have this issue include using metal nanoparticles to support plant growth in heavy metal-contaminated areas, converting the bodies of dead spiders into gripping tools for micro-sized objects, and designing iron oxide nanoparticles that can brush, floss, and rinse your teeth for you.

Carmen Chan