Killer Sea Snail: Venom Of Cone Snail Reveals Powerful Drug Leads

First Posted: Jul 07, 2015 10:18 AM EDT

Snails have garnered the reputation of being rather slow and sluggish, but don't be mistaken by their lazy pace. Some also hold a bit of a dark secret. Some may, too, be harboring incredibly powerful venom. At least, this is the case for one type of Queensland cone snail. 

Researchers at the University of Queensland pain treatment have discovered thousands of new peptide toxins hidden deep within the venom of just one type of Queensland cone snail. With this and other studies, it is their hope that the study of new molecules found in the snail could lead to promising drugs and treatment for both pain management and cancer.

"Cone snail venom is known to contain toxins proven to be valuable drug leads," said Professor Paul Alewood, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in a news release. "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."

Researchers studied the cone snail species known as Conus episcopatus, which is found along the east coast of Australia and is just one of 700 different species of cone snails.

During the study, they used their new method, which involved accurately measuring and analyzing the structure, activity and composition of the diverse range of proteins lurking within the poisonous venom. Through this, researchers discovered the highest number of peptides-otherwise known as mini-proteins-produced in a single cone snail.

"We anticipate there are a lot more interesting molecules to be found in the venom of other species, and we are keen to explore these using our new approach," he added. "This new method of analysis can also be used in research on other animal venoms, or in related fields, such as studying protein expression from cells. It will help us gain a better understanding of biology, look for disease patterns or discover potential new drugs."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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