Medicine: Mysteries of Curare

The conquistadors had no sooner begun cutting their way through the jungles of South America than they found themselves suffering casualties from Indian darts tipped with a potent, paralyzing poison. But a century passed before Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595 carried to Europe the first samples of "urari"—a variant of curare. Years later botanists classified the shrubs from which curare is made,* and the brilliant French physiologist, Claude Bernard, in 1856 made an important discovery: from samples supplied by Brazil's Emperor Pedro II he showed that curare paralyzes its victims by blocking transmission...

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