Because Asprella cone snails reside at such great depths, scientists have not thoroughly studied them. Now we know, though, that these creatures have an impressive hunting strategery where they use their venom to stun and disorient fish. Then they feast upon the unfortunate fish, like a gory scene in a horror movie.
This compound can lead to lethal consequences for their prey, but a new study published in Science Advances explains how Asprella cone snails’ venom can be extremely helpful for humans.
How does venom help humans?
The research group found that the venom is packed with a large variety of chemicals. Through its analysis, the team found a component called Consomatin Ro1 which has a very similar structure to the hormone somatostatin. Somatostatin is produced by many human tissues and is a key player in decreasing other hormone levels in the body. When this process becomes off-balance, a number of diseases can occur.
The researchers investigating the venom found that Consomatin Ro1 can selectively act on two out of five human somatostatin receptors that trigger hormonal control and pain inhibition. Insulin-like molecules were also found in the concoction of venomous chemicals, a discovery by the same group whom we have previously reported on.
The abundance of chemicals in the venom, and their positive effects on the human body, means it could be adapted and used as a pharmaceutical. Potentially being able to treat numerous diseases, including chronic pain, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, mood disorders, digestion problems, and more.
Testing of the drug revealed it to be small, stable, and efficient at reaching its target. Helena Safavi-Hemami, who worked on the study, says Consomatin Ro1 is structured “as if it was designed by drug makers.”
There are many instances of animal venom actually turning out to be beneficial to humans. We’ve previously reported on how spider venom could repair damage from heart attacks, an ingredient in snake venom that makes a life-saving super glue, and how tarantula venom could create painkillers without risk of addiction. The scientists that worked on this cone snail research believe that we have much to gain in medicine by studying venom further.
Consomatin Ro1 has great potential to treat human illness, although there are already analogs of somatostatin on the market. The team needs to test out their new find against these existing pharmaceuticals, but they remain optimistic. There are more than 1,000 species of cone snails in the ocean, many of which produce somatostatin. If their current version is less effective, they have pretty high chances of finding an alternative that could work better.
There are still many compounds in the venom to extract and explore. “Cone snail venom is like a natural library of compounds,” adds Iris Bea Ramiro of the University of Copenhagen. “It is just a matter of finding what is in that library.”
The team also wants to conduct further experiments to test the compounds potentially anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. So far, studies in mice have shown that Consomatin Ro1 has the same efficiency in blocking pain as morphine.
Source study: Science Advances – Somatostatin venom analogs evolved by fish-hunting cone snails: From prey capture behavior to identifying drug leads