Some animals regularly change the makeup of their venom. New research from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has revealed that venomous creatures are even more fascinating than previously realized. The experts found that some aquatic creatures have the ability to change the formula and strength of their venom according to the shifting needs and dangers of their environment.
The study was focused on Nematostella, which are sea anemones that belong to the same family as jellyfish and corals. The sea anemones were monitored throughout their entire lives by the research team – from the time they were still in the vulnerable larvae stage until they grew into mature creatures.
The researchers identified the cells of the Nematostella that produce venom and tracked them over the years. The team also documented the significant interactions of the sea anemones when they were young prey and also when they were predators themselves.
The researchers discovered that, while the sea anemones were in the larvae stage, they produced venom that was so potent it caused predators to immediately spit them out.
When the creatures had grown into predators, they produced a different toxin that was better suited for catching small fish and shrimp. As the sea anemones moved around into new aquatic environments, they further adapted their venom.
“Until now, venom research focused mainly on toxins produced by adult animals,” explained study lead author Dr. Yehu Moran. “However, by studying sea anemones from birth to death, we discovered that animals have a much wider toxin arsenal than previously thought. Their venom evolves to best meet threats from predators and to cope with changing aquatic environments.”
Compounds from animal venom have been used to treat a variety of health issues including diabetes, blood clots, and chronic pain. The findings of this new study indicate that there may be many more types of venom that have gone undetected. Up until now, for example, researchers have only studied venom from adult sea anemones.
The study is published in eLife Science Magazine.
Image Credit: Yaara Columbus-Shenkar, Hebrew University