Snakes, medicine and the mystery of evil


There is an interesting article today in O Globo from Brazil on a recent discovery of medical uses obtained from the jararaca (in tupi it means large snake) poison. The jararaca is the name of a very common poisonous and deadly snake in Brazil, and responsible for a large amount of snake attacks in the country. I remember growing up in the Mata Atlantica and seeing this snake a few times, either alive or recently killed by a neighbor. Given its real and symbolic character as agent of death and fear, I always wondered, like one of the questions asked at the WYD event in Madrid, why on earth did such a creature exist? How can we explain natural evil apart from human freedom?

If you thinik I’m exagerating these are the symptoms of a bite: Typical envenomation symptoms include local swelling, petechiae, bruising and blistering of the affected limb, spontaneous systemic bleeding of the gums and into the skin, subconjunctival hemorrhage and incoagulable blood. The systemic symptoms can potentially be fatal and may involve hemostatic disorders, intracranial hemorrhage, shock and renal failure. Growing up with these around I wondered if anything good could come of the jararaca?

Apparently so. In the 60’s a Brazilian farmacologist derived Captopril, a medicine which uses brandicinine found in the jararaca poison, to treat hypertension, used to this day. Now researches are using the same chemical element to develop medicines to treat nuero-degenerative diseases like Parkinsons,  Alzheimer’s and Huntington, as well as thrombosis. Brandicinine stimulates the growth of neurons and prevents their degeneration, while a newly isolated chemical, jarastanine, prevents coagulation which leads to thrombosis, and with low side effects. So good can be taken from evil, even ‘natural’ evil.

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