Researchers from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have just developed a new method for analyzing proteins found in animal venom, and the results have been shocking: while a small drop of venom from a predatory cone snail could easily kill a person within minutes, the toxins within the venom hold proteins, called peptides, which could provide the foundations for drugs that would treat a variety of medical conditions.
The snail in question is one of 700 cone snails in Australia and is called the Conus episcopatus, Tech Times reports. This mollusk uses its venom to “immobilize its prey, which includes other snails, fish, and worms” and the venom itself contains “an extraordinary cocktail of compounds with medicinal properties.”
One researcher stated that scientists have long been aware of the powerful chemicals contained in the venom of cone snails, but up until this new analysis method was implemented, Business Insider states that it has been impossible to see the peptide molecules so closely.
The Conus episcopatus uses its venom to anesthetize its victims before killing them, so it isn’t surprising that the peptides inside the venom are expected to be used in drugs to treat pain and cancer.
But the Conus episcopatus isn’t the only cone snail with healing powers…
Live Mint recently reported that two scientists in another research group discovered a possible cure for insomnia in the venom of the Conus araneaosus. This cone snail is found on the coastline of southeast India and Sri Lanka, and the predatory snail uses its venom to sedate its prey before killing it.
After researchers isolated and purified a handful of peptides, these chemicals were injected into mice. Within minutes of the injection, one peptide called “ar3J” put the mice to sleep for about two hours; a double dosage resulted in a five-hour nap.
By treating the serious problem of sleep deprivation, which results from sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea, a variety of other medical problems will likely decrease. Sleep apnea sufferers, for example, are three times as likely to develop heart disease if they’re unable to find an effective treatment.
It could be a while before any snail venom peptides are used in drugs for humans, but it definitely seems like Mother Nature has plenty of good surprises up her sleeve.