A recent study has discovered that the cone snail venom could be used as an ingredient in drugs used for treating cancer, addiction and pain. It seems that the predatory cone snail Conus episcopatus produces a type of venom which can be deadly for humans, but which at the same time contains compounds with medical properties.
Conus episcopatus is one of the 700 species of cone snail and it can be found along the east coast of Australia. Even just a tiny amount of cone snail venom can be fatal for humans. The animal becomes aggressive when it is provoked. So far 30 cases of instances in which humans were killed by its venom here reported. It seems that the cone snail venom also presents an analgesic component which makes the victim feel little pain.
Professor Paul Alewood, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland declared:
“This study gives the first-ever snapshot of the toxins that exist in the venom of a single cone snail. Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past.”
In the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) researchers used a new technique to analyze the cone snail venom structure. They used bioinformatics and biochemical tools which enabled the scientists to probe further than before. This technique means an analysis and an accurate measurement of the structure, activity and composition of a varied range of protein. After this analysis researchers discovered the presence of an increased number of peptides. According to Alewood the research team found out six original frameworks, meaning 3D-shaped molecules, which are fit to be used for the developmentof drugs in the near future.
Alewood remarked that they expected there to be many more interesting molecules in the venom toxins of species as well and they are very curious to discover them using this new method. Scientists could use this method to study protein expression from cells which could help them have a better understanding of biology, discover new drugs and potential disease patterns.
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