Cone of poison: The secret behind the cone snail's venom pump

October 27, 2010

Scientists have discovered the secret of how an amazing sea snail injects its venom after shooting a harpoon-like tooth into its prey -- or some unlucky swimmer -- at jetliner speeds. The creatures, called cone snails, use a highly specialized structure that instantly pumps the paralyzing venom through the tooth and into its target. Their study appears in ACS' monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

Helena Safavi-Hemami, Anthony Purcell and colleagues note that cone snails live mainly in the shallows of the world's tropical oceans. Prized by sea-shell collectors for their beautiful shells, the snails are up to 9 inches long. Their mouths have a blow-gun-like structure that shoots a barbed dart-like "tooth" at about 400 miles per hour. The tooth injects venom into fish, worms, or other prey.

The snails occasionally sting swimmers, causing pain and sometimes death. They can reload the shooter with additional harpoons. The venom is produced in the venom duct, a long tube attached to the harpoon on one end and to the venom bulb in the snail's mouth.

The scientists' analysis of proteins in venom bulbs found high concentrations of arginine kinase, a protein that enables squid and scallops to swim away from danger with extreme speed. Its abundance in the bulb suggests that arginine kinase enables the venom bulb to undergo rapid, repeated contractions to quickly force the venom through the venom duct to the harpoon and into the prey, the scientists say. The scientists also identified specialized muscles in the bulb that appear to aid in this process.

Explore further: Here's venom in your eye: Spitting cobras hit their mark

More information: "Proteomic interrogation of venom delivery in marine cone snails – Novel insights into the role of the venom bulb", Journal of Proteome Research.

Related Stories

Here's venom in your eye: Spitting cobras hit their mark

January 22, 2009

Spitting cobras have an exceptional ability to spray venom into eyes of potential attackers. A new study published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology reveals how these snakes maximize their chances of hitting the target.

Snail venoms reflect reduced competition

May 20, 2009

A study of venomous snails on remote Pacific islands reveals genetic underpinnings of an ecological phenomenon that has fascinated scientists since Darwin.

Genetic analysis reveals secrets of scorpion venom

July 1, 2009

Transcriptomic tests have uncovered the protein composition of venom from the Scorpiops jendeki scorpion. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Genomics have carried out the first ever venom analysis in this ...

Scientists tap into Antarctic octopus venom

July 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers have collected venom from octopuses in Antarctica for the first time, significantly advancing our understanding of the properties of venom as a potential resource for drug-development.

Recommended for you

New method developed for producing some metals

August 25, 2016

The MIT researchers were trying to develop a new battery, but it didn't work out that way. Instead, thanks to an unexpected finding in their lab tests, what they discovered was a whole new way of producing the metal antimony—and ...

Force triggers gene expression by stretching chromatin

August 26, 2016

How genes in our DNA are expressed into traits within a cell is a complicated mystery with many players, the main suspects being chemical. However, a new study by University of Illinois researchers and collaborators in China ...

New electrical energy storage material shows its power

August 24, 2016

A powerful new material developed by Northwestern University chemist William Dichtel and his research team could one day speed up the charging process of electric cars and help increase their driving range.

Bio-inspired tire design: Where the rubber meets the road

August 24, 2016

The fascination with the ability of geckos to scamper up smooth walls and hang upside down from improbable surfaces has entranced scientists at least as far back as Aristotle, who noted the reptile's remarkable feats in his ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.