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Nature's Toxins: From Spices to Vices

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1D0030
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Scratch beneath the surface of a coffee bean, a red pepper flake, a poppy seed, a mold spore, a foxglove leaf, a magic mushroom cap, a marijuana bud, or an apple seed, and you’ll find a bevy of strange chemicals. We use these to greet our days (caffeine), titillate our tongues (capsaicin), recover from our surgeries (opioids), cure our infections (penicillin), mend our hearts (digoxin), bend our minds (psilocybin), calm our nerves (CBD), and even kill our enemies (cyanide). But why do plants and fungi produce such chemicals? And how did we come to use and abuse some of them?

Using cutting-edge science in the fields of evolution, chemistry, and neuroscience, evolutionary biologist Noah Whiteman reveals the origins of toxins produced by plants, mushrooms, microbes, and even some animals, the mechanisms that animals evolved to overcome them, and how a co-evolutionary arms race made its way into the human experience. This perpetual chemical war drove the diversification of life on Earth and is also intimately tied to our own successes and failures. Whiteman uncovers the deadly secrets that lurk within our spice racks, medicine cabinets, backyard gardens, and private stashes.

His book Most Delicious Poison: The Story of Nature's Toxins—From Spices to Vices (Little Brown Spark) is available for purchase.

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Inside Science