Read about Baldomero Olivera, Ph.D., in the September 2002 issue.
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
Lots of kids collect seashells, but Baldomero (“Toto”) Olivera spun the hobby into a scientific career. He studies the potent venom of marine cone snails.
Olivera discovered that cone snail venom contains about a hundred different toxins, each of which targets a specific molecule in the nervous system. That kind of pinpoint accuracy is ideal in a drug. Already, one cone snail toxin is sold as a pain medication. Olivera hopes others will one day provide relief from conditions like epilepsy or neurodegenerative disorders. Thousands of toxins still await study.