Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry
By Christie Wilcox
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Next time you’re stung or bitten by a venomous animal or insect, you probably won’t feel as charitably towards your attacker as you might do on reading biologist Christie Wilcox’s fascinating book – assuming you live. But at least you will understand what is happening to you, as the venom disrupts nerve function, or tears through your tissues, leading to pain and, possibly, necrosis. You might even be able to explain what you are feeling, citing Schmidt’s Pain Index: 4.0 means unfathomable agony, although a bullet ant bite scores 4+.
Brave souls such as Wilcox are enhancing our understanding of not only evolution but also adaptation and immunity. Then there is the pharmacological potential of their research: toxins in venom could be used as pesticides that target only a single species of bug; to create non-addictive pain relief; or to “cure the incurables”, including cancers. Wilcox injects such enthusiasm into her work that it is almost a pleasure to read about creatures that can change, or take, your life.