Fang blennies are a popular tropical aquarium fish that swim in the Pacific Ocean. They are small, measuring just 1.5 to 3 inches, but they are relatively safe from bigger predators because of their special defense mechanism: their venom.
Fang Blenny Venom Inhibits Pain
The venom of the fish numbs would-be predators and triggers an unusual response. Zoologist George Losey, who observed the species up close in feeding experiments conducted in the 1970s, reported that predators that put fanged blenny into their mouth would experience violent quivering of their head.
The toxin, though, does not only help the creatures evade dangers in the water but also inspires the development of new pain medications.
Bryan Fry, from the University of Queensland and one of the authors of a study describing the species and its venom in the journal Current Biology, said that the fish injects predators such as bigger fishes with opioid peptides, which releases chemicals that act like heroine or morphine.
What makes the venom interesting is that it inhibits pain than cause it. Bitten fish then become slower and get dizzy once the venom starts to act on their opioid receptor.
In new experiments using lab mice, Fry and colleagues found that the rodents that were injected with the fish venom did not show signs of pain. The blood pressure of the mice, however, plummeted by nearly 40 percent.
"If you had such a big crash in blood pressure, you would immediately feel faint and dizzy," said study researcher Nicholas Casewell, from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
"We don't know that fish get faint or dizzy, but it's extremely likely such a large drop would impact coordination and swimming ability."
Animal Venoms Aids Development Of New Pain Medications
Animal venoms are known to provide researchers with clues on how to produce new pain medications and even substances that they can work with. Certain compounds present in the spider venom, for instance, were found to have potentials in easing chronic pain, which affects about 100 million Americans. The peptide toxin that can be found in the Peruvian green velvet tarantula can also potentially target brain receptors and offer pain relief.
Fang Benny Venom Could Be Source Of Next Painkilling Drug
The effect of the aquarium fish's venom shows potentials in the development of a new class of powerful painkillers.
Researcher said that the venom's opioid peptides are identical to the body's natural painkillers. Because of the small size of the peptide, it could also be easier for scientists to create a synthetic version that can be absorbed by humans.
Fry said that the venom could be the source of the next blockbuster painkiller, which necessitates the protection of these creatures' marine habitat.
Researchers cited the potentials of a fang blenny-inspired medication in the sports industry.
"To put [the venom's effects] into human terms, opioid peptides would be the last thing an elite Olympic swimmer would use as performance-enhancing substances. They would be more likely to drown than win gold," Fry said.