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EEB researchers take on a toxic topic

Sharon Jansa and Danielle Drabeck talk honey badgers, evolution and the power of poisons February 17 at Bryant Lake Bowl.

Sharon Jansa

A few years back, Sharon Jansa and graduate students Danielle Drabeck (Ecology, Evolution and Behavior) began investigating the unusual dietary preferences of the honey badger, a mammal with a taste for poisonous snakes and a surprising resistance to snake venom (not to mention the subject of the wildly popular Honey Badger Don’t Care video).

“Scientists benefit from extracting information from culture and using it to direct research,” says Drabeck, who focuses on the molecular evolution of venom resistance in mammals. From fairy tales to poison dart frogs to pop culture, poison has made an imprint on science. (Jansa has already published two papers born of this fascination with venom and a third, in collaboration with Drabeck, is on the way.) “The honey badger has become this iconic badass,” says Jansa. “So, in our case, it was pop culture informing science.

At Café Scientifique, Jansa and Drabeck will explain how the honey badger's adaptations help researchers use biochemistry and evolutionary biology to better understand how organisms evolve. “Venoms themselves are really interesting,” says Jansa. “You’ve got gene duplication and silencing, co-evolution, regulation pathways, evolution in relation to resistance — it’s a sort of arms race.”


Cafe Scientifique: The Power of Poisons
Tuesday, February 17, doors 6 p.m., program at 7 p.m.
at Bryant Lake Bowl, tickets $5-$12, available online or at the door


February, 2015