Insects beware: The sea anemone is coming

Nov 29, 2012

As insects evolve to become resistant to insecticides, the need to develop new ways to control pests grows. A team of scientists from Leuven, Belgium have discovered that the sea anemone's venom harbors several toxins that promise to become a new generation of insecticides that are environmentally friendly and avoid resistance by the insects. Since these toxins disable ion channels that mediate pain and inflammation, they could also spur drug development aimed at pain, cardiac disorders, epilepsy and seizure disorders, and immunological diseases such as multiple sclerosis. This finding is described in the December 2012 issue of The FASEB Journal.

"Are toxins friend or foe? The more we understand these toxins, they are more friend, and less foe," said Jan Tytgat, Ph.D., co-author of this study from the Laboratory of Toxicology at the University of Leuven in Leuven, Belgium. "Toxicology shows us how to exploit Mother Nature's biodiversity for better and healthier living."

To make this discovery, Tytgat and colleagues extracted venom from the sea anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, and purified three main toxins present in the venom. The toxins were characterized in depth, using biochemical and electrophysiological techniques. This provided insight into their structure, functional role and mechanisms of action. The discovery of these toxins may be considered similar to the discovery of a new drug, as they are compounds which could lead to new insecticides and possibly new treatments for human diseases.

"Because these toxins are aimed at important ion channels present not only in , they form the leading edge of our new biotechnology. Discovery of this useful marine toxin should provide additional incentive to preserve the fragile coral reefs where anemones thrive," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The , "But, given current attitudes, I suspect there's a better chance of a killing a than for us to reverse our inroads on ocean life."

Explore further: Hot-spring bacteria reveal ability to use far-red light for photosynthesis

More information: Steve Peigneur, László Béress, Carolina Möller, Frank Marí, Wolf-Georg Forssmann, and Jan Tytgat. A natural point mutation changes both target selectivity and mechanism of action of sea anemone toxins. FASEB J 26:5141-5151, doi:10.1096/fj.12-218479

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scorpion venom -- bad for bugs, good for pesticides

Apr 27, 2011

Fables have long cast scorpions as bad-natured killers of hapless turtles that naively agree to ferry them across rivers. Michigan State University scientists, however, see them in a different light.

Pinch away the pain

Feb 16, 2010

Scorpion venom is notoriously poisonous -- but it might be used as an alternative to dangerous and addictive painkillers like morphine, a Tel Aviv University researcher claims.

New bacteria toxins against resistant insect pests

Oct 19, 2011

Toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria (Bt toxins) are used in organic and conventional farming to manage pest insects. Sprayed as pesticides or produced in genetically modified plants, Bt toxins, us ...

Recommended for you

Some anti-inflammatory drugs affect more than their targets

18 hours ago

Researchers have discovered that three commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, alter the activity of enzymes within cell membranes. Their finding suggests that, if taken at higher-than-approved ...

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

Aug 20, 2014

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

Aug 20, 2014

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

User comments : 0