Science study reveals that habitat loss imperil one of the worlds most promising source of new drugs
In a letter published in the October 17th issue of Science, three scientists warn that biodiversity loss could have devastating consequences for drug discovery and the development of new medicines. "Tropical cone snails may contain the largest and most clinically important pharmacopoeia of any genus in Nature" says lead author of the study, Eric Chivian from the Harvard Medical School, "but wild populations are being decimated by habitat destruction and overexploitation. To lose these species would be a self-destructive act of unparalleled folly."
Approximately 500 species of cone snails inhabit shallow tropical seas. They defend themselves and paralyze their prey – worms, fish, and other molluscs – by injecting a cocktail of toxins through a hollow, harpoon-like tooth. Each species has its own distinct set of around 100 conotoxins, which like a gourmet chef it mixes in constantly changing proportions, thereby preventing evolution of resistance in their prey. Co-researcher Aaron Bernstein, also of Harvard, says "To date, only about 100 of the estimated 50,000 cone snail toxins have been characterized, and only a handful tested for pharmacologic activity. The results have extraordinary promise for the development of powerful new drugs."
Kathleen Frith | EurekAlert!
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