Published: Tue, April 04, 2017
Medical | By Ismael Lynch

This Fanged Fish has Heroin-Like Venom

This Fanged Fish has Heroin-Like Venom

Researchers have discovered a fish venom that contains opioid properties, which could help in the development of new pain-killing drugs.

"The ancestral fish was an animal that used the fangs to scoop out flesh from larger fish, much like how the fang blenny species Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos (the bluestriped fangblenny) mimics a cleaner wrasse in order to feed on larger fish thinking they're going to get a cleaning", says Fry. Many non-venomous fang blennies and harmless coral fish were discovered with same color and patterns as that of venomous fang blennies. "This is pretty unusual, because often what we've found-for example, in snakes-is that some sort of venom secretions evolved first, before the elaborate venom delivery mechanism evolved", says Casewell. Also, the prey gets drugged on the venom.

Experiments using lab mice found the rodents showed no sign of pain once injected with the fish venom. In fact, a decent dose of Fang Blenny poison will leave a predator's blood pressure down by up to 40%.

The fang blenny's venom is an opioid like morphine or heroin, essentially a painkiller.

"They are protected just by looking like a blenny", says Casewell. This causes would-be attackers to become dizzy and sluggish when bitten, preventing them from eating the blennies. Sometimes, when the blenny tries nibbling on a big fish, the big fish bites back, swallowing the blenny whole. The opioid venom of the fang blenny may provide raw materials for the painkillers of the future.

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ResearchGate: Why do fang blennies have venom? They make their living by nibbling on the scales and fins of bigger fish. Even more interesting is how this odd venom-which shares building blocks with the venom of scorpions and cone snails-came to be.

The team can't be sure-sure this painlessness holds true in the wild, however, since the venom has only been tested on mice - who are notorious for their limited vocabulary. Study co-author Bryan Fry surmises that this combination "can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness".

The venom of Blenny fish is chemically unique and is very effective on its victims.

'To put that into human terms, opioid peptides would be the last thing an elite Olympic swimmer would use as performance-enhancing substances. In predator fish like grouper, though, the venom caused a more visceral response (likely due to the fact that fish are much smaller).

Fang blennies are a popular tropical aquarium fish that swim in the Pacific Ocean. They fearlessly take on potential predators while also intensively fighting for space with similar sized fish. But, as researchers discovered in a new paper published in Current Biology, it's the nature of the toxin that's truly freakish: This is maybe the one venom that doesn't cause any pain. He also thinks 15 to 20 species of fish have evolved to look like venomous fangblennies to protect themselves from predators.

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