dglobalnews.com Heroin-like fish venom could help in development of new painkillers
Published: Tue, April 04, 2017
Medical | By Benjamin Edwards

Heroin-like fish venom could help in development of new painkillers

Heroin-like fish venom could help in development of new painkillers

Whether or not there's pain involved a fang blenny bite - aside from, you know, getting bitten - is hard for researchers to say.

Researcher Bryan Fry, who led the study published in the journal Current Biology, also noted the importance of climate change in the survival of these blennies.

What makes the venom interesting is that it inhibits pain than cause it. As Yin explains, this lends credence to the theory that as certain species evolved, they grew teeth first, then developed systems to produce venom. "For the fang blenny venom to be painless in mice was quite a surprise", says Fry, known stingray survivor.

Fry believes that the fang blennies use their venom to slow down their predators when they try to escape.

The fang blennies are small fish, and researchers struggled to get the venom.

"They are protected just by looking like a blenny", says Casewell. Rather than inflicting pain to defend against predators, the fang blennies' venom instead contains opioid properties that, when injected into mice, caused their blood pressure to plummet by 40%, the New York Times reported.

The fish (pictured) has two large canine teeth jutting out of it's lower jaw and packs a punch when it bites would-be predators, such as grouper fish.

In analyzing the venom extracted from one of these species, scientists were able to identify three types of toxins. So, the Meiacanthus genus of fang blenny evolved venom, co-opting these teeth from their ancestral action of scooping out chunks of flesh, for the delivery of venom to fight off potential predators or compete with other small fish for hiding spots in the coral.

Not all researchers on the team are convinced the the blenny's venom works like hard drugs.

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The tiny fish Meiacanthus nigrolineatus, also known as the fanged blenny fish, doesn't look like much, but it has a secret weapon to keep predators at bay: venom. He explained that the large teeth, much like the big spines of some other fish, could make it hard to be eaten.

"While the feeling of pain is not produced, opioids can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness".

The venom is "chemically unique", Fry said, which drives home the importance of biodiversity.

Dr. Casewell said that only about 30 out of 100 species of fang blennies are venomous.

"To put that into human terms, opioid peptides would be the last thing an elite Olympic swimmer would use as performance-enhancing substances", he said.

If you swallow this tropical blenny, you're likely to have bitten off more than you can chew.

"Predatory fish will not eat those fishes because they think they are venomous and going to cause them harm, but this protection provided also allows some of these mimics to get very close to unsuspecting fish to feed on them, by picking on their scales as a micropredator", Casewell adds.

Findings about blennies and painkillers bolster the need to protect the Great Barrier Reef and other fragile ecosystems.

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