Cone Snails Under Threat

02 November 2003


We may have become immune to the cries from environmentalists urging us to "save the rainforests" but scientists are now warning of serious consequences for medical research in the future unless we halt the destruction of natural habitats. Researchers working on tropical cone snails have found that these slimy hunters produce an enormous range of toxins which they use to kill their prey, like fish and worms. Each species of snail can make around 100 different toxic chemicals, adding upto around 50,000 toxins in total from all snail species. The scientists reckon these chemical could provide an amazing source of new drugs and have already found useful activity in a few- including a possible anti-epileptic drug and a medicine to treat lung cancer. These chemicals could also be used to treat strokes, head injuries, depression, heart problems and even incontinence, as well as being powerful painkillers. But the shallow tropical seas where the snails live are under threat from fishing, pollution, disease, housing and even global climate change. The snails are also taken for their beautiful shells. Unless the exploitation of the snails and their home is stopped, we may lose hundreds of drugs which could help future generations. Click here to jump to the text


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