cover image Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

Christie Wilcox. FSG/Scientific American, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-28337-7

Wilcox, a molecular biologist, takes readers on a lively tour of animals that boast the ability to kill and maim others via their venom. Throughout the book, she uses an evolutionary framework to ask and answer questions about the origin and maintenance of venom across a wide swath of the animal kingdom. Wilcox impressively integrates personal anecdotes—once she was stung by a venomous sea urchin while teaching second graders about marine life—with summaries of the scientific literature, and brings to life the wonders of an intriguing but little-known portion of the biological world. She explores various venoms’ modes of action: disrupting nerve function, altering blood chemistry, and manipulating immune function. Wilcox discusses current research that has serious implications for human health; in one researcher’s estimation, animal venoms are a potential “pharmacological gold mine.” There is also reason to believe that it might be possible for scientists to craft a universal antivenom that will save significant numbers of lives annually. Whether she’s discussing snakes and pufferfish or Komodo dragons and spiders—not to mention octopuses, snails, platypuses, and bees—Wilcox relates technical biochemical and physiological information in a manner that is accessible and enjoyable. Agency: Susan Rabiner Literary. (Aug.)