Unusual fish delivers heroin-like bite

Fang blenny fish

Fang blenny fish

When Dr. Casewell and his fellow colleagues did microCT scans on Meiacanthus grammistes, a venomous fang blenny species, and compared the scans to the scans of other species of fang blennies, they discovered that not all species of the fish "have venom glands at the base of their teeth".

This made the fang blenny a curiosity; the scientists knew it to be venomous, but set out to understand how and why its bite was painless. When injected with the venom, mice showed blood pressure drops of almost 40 percent-but didn't show significant signs of distress. "Fish with venomous dorsal spines produce immediate and blinding pain". They generally wear off too fast to be of much use as a medicine.

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

Fangs on a fish are odd enough, but even weirder is how one toothy group-fang blennies-defend themselves from attackers.

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That's because the heroin-like poison emitted by the blenny may lead to new and better painkillers. After putting the angry blenny back in its tank, they would extract the venom from the swab. Since the researchers used rodents for the pain test, they can't entirely rule out the possibility of blenny venom causing pain in fish, but it seems plausible that the neuropeptide and opioid components may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, most likely leaving the blenny's attacker disorientated and unable to give chase.

What makes the venom interesting is that it inhibits pain than cause it. However, the researchers observed about 40 percent drop in the mice's blood pressure.

When a predator engulfs a blenny, the tiny fish bites the predator's gums. This study will represent the starting point for other similar studies about venom.

In analyzing the venom extracted from one of these species, scientists were able to identify three types of toxins. "The fang blenny would simply swim out of the mouth and escape". If a human is bitten, study co-author Bryan Fry states, the venom "can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness".

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Fry says studying the unique opioid peptides in the fangblenny venom could be beneficial in the future. "They fearlessly take on potential predators while also intensively fighting for space with similar sized fish", he says.

Some other species have found a way to cash in on the venom without going to the trouble of actually evolving to incorporate it - by mimicking the color patterns of venomous fang blenny species, nonvenomous blennies and other small fish can ruse predators into backing down.

Dr Casewell said: "These unassuming little fish have a really quite advanced venom system, and that venom system has a major impact on fishes and other animals in its community".

Fry says that this discovery is an excellent example of why we must urgently protect all of nature; it is impossible to predict where the next wonder drug will come from.

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Fry said that the venom could be the source of the next blockbuster painkiller, which necessitates the protection of these creatures' marine habitat.

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