After analyzing the venom, specialists determined that it contains three toxins, namely an opioid as unsafe as heroin, a molecule used in neuron signaling and an enzyme. They had to bait them with a cotton swab that they then bit.
Snakes, scorpions and spiders are the usual suspects for this kind of research, but with so many venomous fish out there, we could find some useful chemicals in them, too.
"Fish venom has been understudied".
All these researchers teamed up and developed a study in which deals with the analysis of venomous fang blenny fish.
"Other fish mimic blennies to get the benefit of larger fish avoiding fang blennies due to their toxicity", study co-author Bryan Fry, a biochemist and molecular biologist and an associate professor at the Australian Academy of Science, told Live Science. Fry said that the pain he felt "from a stingray envenomation", was like "pure hell". Another surprising evidence they got is that fang blenny fangs evolved before the venom.
The venom from the fang blenny had a different effect. One bite of the predator's gums or tongue and the venom will make the it shake, quiver, and open its jaws and gills really wide - giving the blenny a clean escape.
In his initial research, Dr Casewell read fang blenny studies carried out in the 1970s, where larger, predatory fish were "introduced" to the fang blennies. He explains that although the feeling of pain is not produced in the victim, the opioid components from the venom can produce sensations of unpleasant nausea and dizziness in mammals.
Fry believes the venom causes the larger fish to become dizzy. But until now, no one was sure how the venom actually worked.
For the new study, Casewell and his colleagues used microCT scanning and other forms of microscopy to image the fish. For instance, they could develop a more effective painkiller by using the opioid peptides present in the venom. The marine biologists discovered that the fang-blenny, which is a tiny reef-dwelling fish, has a venom that is laced with pain-killing chemicals.
Fry, along with Nicholas Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, led a team of researchers that published a study on various evolutionary characteristics of blenny fish.
"All of this mimicry, all of these interactions at the community level, ultimately are stimulated by the venom system that some of these fish have".
"If we lose the Great Barrier Reef, we will lose animals like the fang blenny and its unique venom that could be the source of the next blockbuster painkilling drug". The tiny fish injects the venom through glands under their fangs and may be able to send more just by biting harder.
Fry says studying the unique opioid peptides in the fangblenny venom could be beneficial in the future.
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