Menacing Waters

The intriguing story of the links between the venomous marine creatures in the waters of Northern Australia and the life-saving laboratories of modern-day medicine.

Produced by NHNZ

The deadly venom of sea snakes and box jellyfish may be the stuff of nightmares, but in reality it could hold the key to new ideas for industrial chemicals and drugs that could ease human pain.

Menacing Waters is the intriguing story of a surprising link between the waters of Northern Australia and the lifesaving laboratories of modern-day medicine.

This science-based programme explores the inner workings of powerful venoms produced by four marine creatures that are known to have taken human lives—the box jellyfish, the blue ringed octopus, the sea snake and the cone snail—and the groundbreaking research of four scientists studying the natural chemistry of venom in a quest for medical breakthroughs.

The paralyzing venom of the brightly coloured blue ringed octopus is capable of shutting down the nervous system of almost any creature on Earth, while the painful venom of the mysterious box jellyfish makes it one of Australia’s top killers, responsible for more human fatalities than sharks and crocodiles combined.

By understanding how the venom of these animals attacks the human nervous system researchers are developing new painkillers and treatments for neurological conditions. A toxin from the cone snail, for example, is now in clinical trials as a radical new painkiller, more powerful than morphine but without the undesirable side effects.

Dramatisations, and an actual snakebite case caught on film, are used to illustrate the effect venom has on its victims. Combined with stunning “organic” 3D computer graphics the film dynamically captures the mechanics of life and death at the molecular level when venom attacks the human nervous system.

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