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The Chemical Warfare Of Small, Deadly Sea Slugs

First Posted: Jan 22, 2016 02:40 PM EST

Sea slugs are small, colorful ocean creatures that contain deadly chemicals, which are often used on their enemies. In a study led by the University of Queensland, researchers examined five closely-related species of nudibranchs, sea slugs to determine their toxicity.

"Science has known that many sea slugs obtain toxins from what they are eating, such as sponges," Dr. Karen Cheney, coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "But in our study we found they selected only one toxin to store a particularly toxic compound called Latrunculin A."

The researchers claimed that toxicity tests showed that the smallest amounts of the compound killed brine shrimp. During their study, the researchers found that this compound was more toxic to cancer cell line compared to the compounds in other types of sea slugs.

Sea slugs use their bright colors and chemical defenses to warn their predators, similar to poison dart frogs and colorful butterflies that indicate their toxicity with their colors.

"We are investigating whether the most brightly colored sea slugs are the most toxic and also whether cryptic sea slugs that blend in with their environment also contain strong toxic defenses" said Cheney.

The researchers believe that the toxin from these sea slugs can be transferred into the medical field, where it can be used as a potential guide in conducting new cancer research.

The findings of this study were published in PLOS One.

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