The Power of Poison

11 January 2014 by GrrlScientist, posted in Video

SUMMARY: What's the difference between poisons, toxins, venoms -- and magic?


Ranitomeya uakarii, a poison dart frog species that is widespread throughout the Amazon basin of South America.
Image: MoleSon² [Creative Commons 2.0 (by-nc)]

It's Caturday, so that means it's time for a video!

This week's video comes courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, where I was a postdoc and which is hosting a new exhibit, The power of poison.

The topic of poisons has fascinated people throughout the ages and poisonous broths and potions figure prominently in fairy tales and myths from all cultures. For example, William Shakespeare famously wrote about witches brewing a poisonous broth in Macbeth;

Round about the caldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.

[...]

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

~~ William Shakespeare Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 1)

But where do poisons come from? Are they only found in certain plants? Why do they exist? Can poisons actually save lives? For answers to these questions and more, you'll want to explore the new "Power of Poison" exhibit at AMNH.

In this video, Mark Siddell, curator of invertebrate zoology at AMNH, introduces us to this topic by telling us the difference between poisons, toxins, venoms -- and magic (hint: the difference lies not in the identity of the substance, but in the delivery mechanism):

[Video link]

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NOTE: this piece is slightly edited from the original, which was written by GrrlScientist and published by the Guardian.

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Grrlscientist can also be found on on her eponymous Guardian blog, and she sometimes lurks on social media; facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Expatacular!, Pinterest. She's quite active on twitter: @GrrlScientist

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