Bioprospecting in Venoms


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Bioprospecting is the practice of searching through the natural world for chemicals with pharmaceutical purposes. It is an expensive undertaking, requiring time and resources to sift through collections of plants and animals, but it often yields staggering success well that might not be achieved through synthetic drugs. One way biopharmaceutical companies try to narrow the range of candidates is by working with local people to identify sources of traditional medicines. Another way is to examine closely related species, based on phylogenies, graphic representations of evolutionary relationships. In the past, phylogenies have allowed successful identification of alternative sources for rare compounds, such as taxol. This New York Times article highlights the work done by icthyologists interested in fish venoms. Marine venoms are complex and potent. Recent work on the venom of cone shells has provided a powerful pain killer, as well as several other chemicals with potential medical applications. The icthyologists studied the DNA of 233 spiny rayed fish. They then took a closer look at the anatomy and physiology of 102 of these fish. Based on the tree, they predicted 61 venomous species, although only 26 had been identified – and they were right. This kind of evolutionary work helps identify new potential medicines more quickly and less expensively.

Venom Runs Thick in Fish Families, NY Times (article, video, and link to scientific paper)

Cone shell cures : PBS