Australian Book of the Month Venom Doc by Bryan Grieg Fry #review and Interview

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Venom DocTitle: Venom Doc

Author: Bryan Grieg Fry

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Source: Provided by Publisher

Release Date: August 25th 2015

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Meet US-born Australian venomologist Bryan Grieg Fry, the man with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world – working with the world’s deadliest creatures.

Welcome to the strange and dangerous world of Doctor Venom.

Imagine a three-week-long first date in Siberia catching venomous water shrews, and later a wedding attended by Eastern European prime ministers and their bodyguards wielding machine guns. Then a life spent living and working with snakes. Lots of very, very poisonous snakes and other venomous creatures … everything from the Malaysian king cobra to deadly scorpions.

Welcome to Bryan Grieg Fry’s world.

In this action-packed ride through Bryan’s life you’ll meet the man who’s worked with the world’s most venomous creatures in over 50 countries. He’s been bitten by 26 poisonous snakes and stung by three stingrays – and survived a near-fatal scorpion sting while deep in the Amazon jungle. He’s also broken 23 bones, including breaking his back in three places, and had to learn how to walk again. But when you only research the venom you’ve collected yourself – the adventures, and danger, will just keep coming …

Dividing his time between scientific research and teaching at the University of Queensland, and TV filming and collecting expeditions around the world, Bryan and danger are never far from one another.

My Thoughts

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Venom Doc follows the amazing life of  U.S born Australian  Venomologist Dr Fry, who has travelled the world in search of all things venomous.

Dr Fry is able to tell his story in a way that keeps you highly entertained, from horrifying accounts of being bitten or stung by animals, sad accounts of friends and colleagues passing away from bites and occasional hilarious stories about friends chasing leprechauns through forests (you need to read it to believe it.)

You are able to learn amazing things from this book without realising it, I would never of guessed that so many modern medications come from venom, and that Dr Fry has studied his whole life to help make these life saving medications.

I have always had a fascination with reptiles, although I have never had a chance to actually own one. I was unfortunate to come across a brown snake once that killed my Great Dane dog in such a short time after being bit, it amazes me that Dr Fry could live through so many bites and get out there again and again. (have a read of the interview underneath to see how his family deal with this.) I have not been able to look at snakes the same way although they still fascinate me, I have a healthy understanding with them, leave me alone and I will leave you alone.

In summary this book is Amazing definitely put it on Christmas lists if you can wait that long, but do your self a favour and read this book.  I never knew animals could be so amazing with what their venom can do, and this is Dr Fry’s goal to let people know that without these amazing creatures we would not have so many life saving drugs available today.

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Interview with Dr Bryan Grieg Fry.

I was very honoured to have a chance to interview Dr Fry and here are the results.

 

  1. Have you ever come across an animal you have been too afraid to handle?

No.

 

  1. How do your mother and wife cope with your near death experiences and the fact that you go out to do it all again?

Needless to say, it is continuously stressful for them that I work with                        inherently dangerous animals in uncontrolled situations. The key is anticipation of potential outcomes and then developing contingency plans. While of course I do not deliberately put myself in hazard’s way, things do happen. It is therefore of paramount importance to have proper risk assessments, first aid plans and extraction procedures. Otherwise, this can lead to death. As has happened to friends of mine who were killed by venomous snakes.

 

 

  1. As a child you would often come home with reptiles in your school bag. What advice would you give children that want to follow in your footsteps? And for the parents, what is a good snake to start off with as a pet?

The advise I would give to children is to use the passion as fuel. Childhood interests of any type if nurtured can become the wellspring for the most satisfying of careers. Where work is not ‘work’. If I had millions of dollars, I would still be doing exactly what I am doing.

 

As for the parents, there are many snakes that make excellent pets. I certainly would not recommend giant pythons as a suitable pet for a child, but snakes such as some of the smaller pythons like carpet pythons can be excellent pets for children. Naturally there must be parental supervision to ensure that the animal is being cared for in the proper manner.

 

 

  1. You have a busy and full on life, how did you find time to write a book?

I have always been a note taker. So I already had a wealth of material to work with when I decided to write this book. This made my task much easier and the entire endeavour much more feasible.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book?

Voyage of the Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, about his voyage across the Pacific Ocean on a raft made using indigenous techniques. As a child this book fascinated me beyond measure. My mother was born and raised in Norway, which is where Thor also was from. This gave me a personal link to the book. I also noted that Thor Heyerdahl was a member of the elite society the Explorers Club. It was a life long goal of mine to achieve feats of exploration worthy of my inclusion in this august society. I was inducted into it earlier this year. An accomplishment that was deeply satisfying.

  1. What is your favourite species and why?

It would be a tie between komodo dragons and king cobras. Komodo dragons are the largest living lizard and king cobras are the largest venomous snake to have ever lived. Both are extremely intelligent and, if they are not feeling threatened, they can actually be quite curious. Interacting with a calm specimen can be a magical experience.

 

  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

I see myself in 5 years time doing exactly what I am doing: studying the world’s most dangerous animals to show that they are not the creatures of nightmare but are magnificent creatures who’s venom contains lifesaving drugs.

 

Venoms and toxins are a rich source of unexplored compounds which could be used in drug discovery and development. Reptile venoms have been used to develop drugs such as Captopril, which is used to treat high blood pressure, and Byetta, which is used to treat diabetes and has off-label effectiveness as an anti-obesity drug.

 

Captopril was derived from the venom of the lancehead viper from Brazil. This drug and its derivatives have an annual market of $10 billion. It reinforces the value of conservation, for if the habitats are wiped out, the animals will be extinct before we can study them. When people ask me what the best argument is to convince people of the value of conservation, I say that their weakest argument is to talk about how magnificent and wonderful the animals are. The only people who will appreciate that will be the ones who already think that way – it’s very much a case of preaching to the choir. Rather, they should stress the value of conservation through commercialisation, pointing out that destroying a stand of forest is no different than nuking mineral deposits. There is no way to predict where the next wonder drug will come from, so we need to conserve all of nature.

 

  1. What has been your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement has been that komodo dragons do not kill with bacteria but are in fact venomous. This breakthrough came because the whole idea of bacteria just never made any sense to me. There is a simple philosophy in science that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Bacteria being used as a weapon is as extraordinary of a claim as could be made. However, the evidence was sorely lacking.

 

At every opportunity we have gone to great pains to stress that anguimorph lizards are  of but of trivial direct medical importance to humans (with the exception of helodermatids and of course the  komodo dragon). As per this report

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/lizard-venom-may-treat-heart-disease.htm

 

The anguimorphs have a combined arsenal system employing teeth and venom.  Helodermatids are one extreme, relying just on the venom for prey capture, with the deeply grooved gracile teeth restricted to a venom delivering role.  In contrast, komodos have the large serrated teeth as the primary weapon, using a grip-and-rip strategy to inflict deep parallel wounds.  Mechanical damage that in some cases results in very rapid death from blood loss (eg slicing the femoral artery).  The role of the venom is to exaggerate the blood loss and shock inducing mechanical damage caused by the bite.  We have identified two main actions common to all anguimorph venoms: anticoagulation and hypotension.  Enough loss of blood would lead to a drop in blood pressure sufficient to induce shock or unconsciousness.  So anticoagulant toxins facilitate a steady march  in this direction.  Similarly,hypotensive toxins accelerate the unconscious endpoint.

 

Komodos evolved not in Indonesia but in Australia, and were not the biggest to have roamed, at least two larger varanids existed to predate on megafauna.  The second largest radiated to Timor while komodo radiated to Flores and nearby islands.  The modern day situation is that   the komodos have three mammalian potential prey choices.  All of which are feral.  The introduced pigs and deer are within the natural prey size (40-50 kg) while the buffalo are dramatically larger than would have been a reasonable size for  komodos to kill and also occupy an ecology unlike anything in Australia.

 

These collective differences are starkly reflected in attack success. Attacks on pigs and deer are extremely successful.  About  three quarters bleed out  within the first thirty minutes and another approximately fifteen percent succumb within three or four hours.  Repeated attacks by the same or other komodos is  not uncommon. In dramatic contrast is the outcome of attacks on water buffalo.  Which invariably get away, with deep wounds to the legs.  Upon which they go and stand in feces filled watering holes.  Creating a perfect scenario for dramatic infections.  Not from the dragons mouth, but rather having an environmental source.  Deep wounds in feces laden water is a  perfect scenario for the flourishing of bacteria, particularly the  nasty anaerobic types.  Thus, the sampling of  komodo mouths that purported to show them harbouring pathogenic bacteria neglected to sample  the real source of any infection to the water buffalo: the faeces filled waiting hole the dragons recently drank from.  It has been a man made artificial  scenario all along that has nothing to do with the evolution of the predatory ecology of komodos.

 

Having gotten septicaemia in Flores from deep lacerations resulting from a boating mishap in Flores harbour (water that is  pretty disgusting) I can attest to how quickly such environmental sources can produce life threatening infections.  As a consequence of the Flores doctor doing a shockingly inept job of cleaning up the wounds before stitching them up, I  ended up delirious and near unconscious in the Bali International  SOS clinic 36 hours getting emergency IV antibiotics.

 

There is nothing special about komodos.  They are simply the largest extant species of a clade that  had two extinct larger species and  has two extant  species (V. varius and V. salvadorii), all of which share the unique large,blade like serrated teeth. None of which have ever had the slightest whiff of using bacteria as a weapon.

 

  1. What has been your favourite country to visit?

My favourite place to visit so far has been Antarctica. It was like a religious experience.  Icebergs of all colours cruised by – green, blue, red, hard white and all variations in between. All a result of the varying mineral content of the water. Some were truly ethereal.

 

  1. Do you have any future plans for T.V or books?

I am regularly filming nature documentaries to educate about how important the natural world is in general, and venomous animals in particular. I am also now writing a new book, about the damage to the male hormone system caused by medications, recreational drugs or pollutants. It will draw upon my personal experience this regard as a consequence of months of intravenous pain medication when I was in the hospital with a very badly broken back that required major surgery to fix, which I discuss in VENOM DOC, but also using my PhD in Biochemistry to dig into the medical literature and digest it into a format that any man can understand. The title will be ‘Mojo mayhem: male hormones and the chemicals that hate them’.

 

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