Researchers have discovered a fish venom that contains opioid properties, which could help in the development of new pain-killing drugs.
They sneak around and "carve out chunks of larger fish unsuspectingly" says Bryan Fry, an associate professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, "It's a really really uncool way to do it". The study was published in the Current Biology journal and, if you are curious, you can read it here.
"Normally if an animal uses a venom for defence, it's all about pain". Evolution favored the tiny fish with large teeth first and later found a way to enhance them with venom. Indeed, lab mice that were injected with its venom did not show any overt reaction though their blood pressure did drop by almost 40 percent.
Stepping away from the traditional take on chemical defense, fang blennies turned to venom whose neuropeptide and opioid components seem to cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, leaving a would-be predator dazed an unable to pursue the fish.
Nicholas Casewell, a lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and one of the authors of the study, indicated that only 30 out of 100 blenny species sport such a risky feature. It can also be used in case the benny was already caught and eater.
Researchers found that the fang blenny, a reef-dwelling fish, administers a bite that is laced with opioids. Scientists still need to conduct more studies and tests of the fang blennies' venom, but it could signify a potential breakthrough for the painkiller crisis.
When a bigger fish eats a blenny, the tiny fish bites the predator's gums.
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Another surprise from the study was the evidence suggesting that fang blenny fangs evolved before the venom.
In the study, a team of global researchers analyzed those glands and found the toxins are a chemical mix of different opioid peptides that act like morphine or heroine.
If swallowed, this fish is known to make its predators experience a "violent quivering of the head", which forces its predator to open its jaws and gills, allowing that the blenny to escape, unscathed. "We expected that.it's a defensive venom, so it's going to hurt like every other defensive venom", he adds.
Not all researchers on the team are convinced the the blenny's venom works like hard drugs.
The "fang blenny", also known as poison-fang blennies or sabre-tooth blennies, may look harmless at just two inches long.
Fry says studying the unique opioid peptides in the fangblenny venom could be beneficial in the future. "While the feeling of pain is not produced, opioids can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness", says Brian Fry. He shared that if the world loses the Great Barrier Reef, animals like the fang blenny and their unique venom could be gone forever. "They would be more likely to drown than win gold", he said.
An global team of scientists wanted to know how venom evolved in these little fish - there hasn't been a whole lot of research into fish venom, as opposed to insect or snake venom.