If you think snails are helpless, think again! Some snails possess highly effective defense mechanism to compensate for their lethargic pace. They have a surprise in store for those who want to take advantage of their apparent vulnerability.
There’s a new research study to this effect which suggests some cone snails have a secret weapon in case they are being attacked. They are called insulin “stun guns”. This is a especial kind, unique to certain cone snail species. What it does is assault the immune system of the victim.
Some of these snails seem to have special kind of insulin mixed to their lethal venom, the University of Utah reported.
“This is a unique type of insulin. It is shorter than any insulin that has been described in any animal,” said senior author Baldomero M. Olivera, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Utah. “We found it in the venom in large amounts.”
The poisonous venom works by reducing the blood sugar content of zebrafish. The venom acts by enveloping the fish in the water which disables the fish’s ability to swim.
The research team believed that by adding insulin to the mixture of venom toxins, enabled the snails to “shoot” at the schools of fish with debilitating effect. The hypoglycemic shock that follows stops the fish right on their track and allows the snail to escape. The dangerous mixture is released through a gun-like opening located at the mouth of the snail.
To better understand how the defense mechanism really works, a research team examined the gene sequence of all the proteins found in the venom gland of Conus geographus. They discovered two which looks similar to the insulin hormone found in humans and other animals. Hormones controls the immune system of both humans and animals.
The venom was subjected to lab analysis and was found out to contain large amounts of fish insulin.
The insulin found in the snail is different from other types of insulin since it only contains 43 amino acids which is fewer compared to other types. With further studies, the venom could be used in controlling sugar and metabolism in humans.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.