An evolutionary arms race between predatory garter snakes and their newt quarry is turning out to be something of an illusion. At the molecular level, another battle rages. And in this second, miniature realm, its the newt whos the aggressor.
Some garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) have evolved the ability to eat super-toxic newts (Taricha granulosa) in the Pacific Northwest Photo by: Edmund Brodie III
Biologists at Indiana University Bloomington, Utah State University and the University of Utah present evidence in this weeks Nature that a toxin produced by the rough skinned newt, Taricha granulosa, has forced several evolutionary changes in the garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis or, more specifically, in the snake nerve cell protein that endures the toxins attacks.
Embedded in the surface of garter snake nerve cells is tsNa(V)1.4, a tube-shaped protein that allows sodium ions to flow into the cell. When nerve cells ability to move sodium in and out is hampered, paralysis and death can result. Tetrodotoxin (TTX), a powerful paralytic poison concentrated in the newts skin, can bind to garter snake nerve cell channels and prevent sodium ions from flowing freely.
David Bricker | EurekAlert!
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