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Breakthrough Science

Breakthrough: The Killer Snail Chemist



These aren’t your ordinary garden snails. Tiny cone snails may boast delicate and gorgeous shells, but they pack a powerful—and lethal—punch. The snails’ venom can be fatal to various fish and even humans.

But it could also offer a potential cure.

Mandë Holford, a biochemist at Hunter College and the American Museum of Natural History, works with a team to investigate the snails’ venom and look for compounds that could be used to treat pain and cancer. Ancient cultures have traditionally used their natural environment to look for cures for the things that ail them, she explains. Now, researchers are investigating how “nature’s deadliest cocktail” could create new pathways for treating old problems.

A film by Science Friday

Produced in collaboration with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Produced by Emily V. Driscoll and Luke Groskin

Directed and Edited by  Emily V. Driscoll 

Filmed by  Christian Baker and Dusty Hulet 

Animations by M. Gail Rudakewich and Luke Groskin

Music by Audio Network

Additional Photos and Video by
Olivera Lab, Shutterstock, Pond5, NatureFootage, BioPixel, iBiology, Mandë Holford, Gregory S. Herbert
Guillaume van den Bossche, The National Library of Medicine
Project Advisors:
Laura A. Helft, Laura Bonetta, Dennis W.C. Liu and Sean B. Carroll – Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Special Thanks to
American Museum of Natural History, Hunter College, Olivera Lab at the University of Utah
Baldomero “Toto” Olivera, Talia Amador, Devin Callahan, Sean Christensen, Mandë Holford
Gregory S. Herbert, My Huynh, Terry Merritt, Aubrey Miller, Kendra Snyder, Danielle Dana, 
Chistian Skotte, Ariel Zych and Jennifer Fenwick

Science Friday/HHMI © 2017

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  1. Iron Corona

    November 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm


  2. Noah Somerville

    November 2, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Second. But boy, this snail is freaky! I love it!

  3. aleix1203

    November 2, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    "Nature have lots of twists"
    See what you did there

  4. Dio Luki

    November 2, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    That's unbelievable great job !

  5. Victor Kruglov

    November 2, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    squishy snail noises

  6. Lok Poon

    November 2, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I think those freshwater goldfish they are feeding the marine snail will suffer less with the venom than the salty water

  7. Anangke

    November 2, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    That was an awesome episode!

  8. Joye Colbeck

    November 2, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Fantastic work. Thankyou.

  9. Geni-us

    November 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Very Interesting.

  10. The Majestic Beard

    November 2, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Awesome video, as always 🙂

  11. graphite

    November 3, 2017 at 2:01 am

    So these talented scientists may be able to halt the opiod crisis…. Fund These People Now!!!!

  12. Alex H

    November 3, 2017 at 4:21 am

    I love videos like these.

  13. Mage of Void

    November 3, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Love this video! Amazing topic and super engaging featured scientist!

  14. _Paws_

    November 3, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    I wonder if she owns Assassin Snails (clea helena)

  15. John Mendoza

    November 12, 2017 at 12:30 am


  16. Morgan Handley

    November 17, 2017 at 8:13 am

    This channel only has 100K subscribers?

  17. Dip Shit

    November 29, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Damn that woman look like she got fangs lmao

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Breakthrough Science

A Disease’s Guide to World Domination




Get 3 weeks of free access to CuriosityStream by visiting and using the promo code “minute”

There’s something surprising that helps determine how damaging a disease is: distance.

Thanks also to our Patreon patrons and our YouTube sponsors.


To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Direct transmission: occurs when a pathogen is transmitted to a new host by physical or close contact
Virulence: the degree of damage a pathogen causes its host

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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
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Video Director: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
Video Narrator: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Emily Elert, Peter Reich, David Goldenberg
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:



Blanquart, F., et al. (2016). A transmission-virulence evolutionary trade-off explains attenuation of HIV-1 in Uganda. Elife 5: 5.

de Roode, J.C., Yates, A.J., & Altizer, S. (2008). Virulence-transmission trade-offs and population divergence in virulence in a naturally occurring butterfly parasite. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 105: 7489-7494

Ewald, P.W. (1983). Host-parasite relations, vectors, and the evolution of disease severity. Annual Reviews Ecology & Systematics 14: 465-485

Ewald, P.W. (1991). Waterborne transmission and the evolution of virulence among gastrointestinal bacteria. Epidemiology & Infection 106: 83-119.

Ewald, P.W. (1991). Transmission modes and the evolution of virulence: with special reference to cholera, influenza, and AIDS. Human Nature 2: 1-30.

Galvani, A.P. (2003) Epidemiology meets evolutionary ecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18: 132-139.

Lipsitch, M. & Moxon, E.R. (1997). Virulence and transmissibility of pathogens: what is the relationship? Trends in Microbiology 5: 31-37.

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Breakthrough Science

Don Cleveland: 2018 Breakthrough Prize Award Presentation




The recipients of the 2018 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics were presented to the public on December 3, 2017 at a gala awards ceremony at NASA’s Hangar 1 in Mountain View, California. The event was hosted by Morgan Freeman, with a live performance by Wiz Khalifa and musician Nana Ou-Yang, and presentations from Mayim Bialik, Lily Collins, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Katie Ledecky, Kerry Washington, John Urschel, Miss USA Kára McCullough, Susan Wojcicki, Kevin Systrom, Sam Altman, Demis Hassabis and the founders of the Breakthrough Prize. The event was produced by Vanity Fair and Don Mischer Productions and broadcast live on National Geographic, Facebook and YouTube. Learn more about the Breakthrough Prize at

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Breakthrough Science

Researchers share $22m breakthrough prize as science gets rock star treatment




Researchers share $22m breakthrough prize as science gets rock star treatment
The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22m (£16.3m) in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at…

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