Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Killer Catfish? Venomous Species Surprisingly Common

Name all the venomous animals you can think of and you probably come up with snakes, spiders, bees, wasps and perhaps poisonous frogs. But catfish?

A new study by University of Michigan graduate student Jeremy Wright finds that at least 1,250 and possibly more than 1,600 species of catfish may be venomous---far more than previously believed. The research is described in a paper published online Dec. 4 in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Lest anyone have concerns about attacks of killer catfish, rest assured that, at least in North America, these finned fatales use their venom mainly to defend themselves against predatory fish, though they can inflict a painful sting that many fishermen have suffered. In other parts of the world, some catfish do have extremely toxic venoms that can be deadly to humans.

Scientists have focused a great deal of attention of venom produced by snakes and spiders, but venomous fish had been largely neglected, said Wright, who used histological and toxicological techniques, as well as previous studies of evolutionary relationships among catfish species, to catalog the presence of venom glands and investigate their biological effects.

Catfish venom glands are found alongside sharp, bony spines on the edges of the dorsal and pectoral fins, and these spines can be locked into place when the catfish is threatened. When a spine jabs a potential predator, the membrane surrounding the venom gland cells is torn, releasing venom into the wound. In his paper, Wright describes how catfish venoms poison nerves and break down red blood cells, producing such effects as severe pain, reduced blood flow, muscle spasms and respiratory distress. However, because none of the species he examined produces more than three distinct toxins in its venom, each species probably displays only a subset of the whole repertoire of effects.

The main dangers to humans who tangle with North American catfish come not from the initial sting and inflammation, but from secondary bacterial and fungal infections that can be introduced through the puncture wound or when pieces of the spine and other tissue break off in the wound, Wright said. "In such cases, complications associated with these infections and foreign bodies can last several months."

On the evolutionary side, Wright's analyses point to at least two independent origins of catfish venom glands. In addition, the toxic proteins show strong similarities with, and might be derived from, previously characterized toxins found in catfish skin secretions.

Those toxins in catfish skin secretions have been shown to accelerate wound healing in humans, so it's possible that the proteins from their venom glands could have similar properties. Probably not very likely, given the known effects of these venoms on humans, but perhaps worth investigating, Wright said.

"I'm currently working to isolate particular toxins and determine their chemical structures and the genes responsible for their production," he said. "It's a very poorly-studied area, with little in the way of scientific literature to draw on, and my studies are just getting off the ground. So at this point it remains to be seen whether they'll have any therapeutic value, though it's worth pointing out that toxins from the venoms of other organisms---snakes, cone snails and scorpions, for example---have all been put to pharmaceutical and therapeutic use."

Further examination of the chemical composition of the venoms also will provide valuable insight into the mechanisms and potential selective factors driving venom evolution in fishes, Wright said.

Wright received financial support from the U-M Museum of Zoology and the U-M Rackham Graduate School.

More information:
Jeremy Wright:
BMC Evolutionary Biology:

Nancy Ross-Flanigan | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht ‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie

nachricht Calcium Induces Chronic Lung Infections
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>