Researchers have found thousands of new peptide toxins in the venom of one type of predatory cone snail, Conus episcopatus, which can be found along Australia's east coast and is one of the 700 species of cone snail.
A small amount of the cone snail's venom could kill humans. About 30 instances have in fact been recorded of people getting killed by cone snails as the mollusk becomes aggressive when provoked. The victims also appear to suffer little pain because an analgesic component is found in the snail's venom.
Despite it being deadly, researchers hope that the venom could pave way for the development of new drugs that can treat pain, addiction and cancer.
Frank Mari, from Florida Atlantic University, said that the venom of the animal that it uses to immobilize its prey, which includes other snails, fish and worms, contains an extraordinary cocktail of compounds with medicinal properties.
In a new study published in PNAS, researchers came up with a new method of analyzing the venom toxins' structure using biochemical and bioinformatics tools allowing them to probe further than ever before.
The method, which involves accurate measurement and analysis of the structure, composition and activity of a diverse range of protein in the venom, has led to the discovery of the highest number of peptides found in the venom of a single cone snail.
Paul Alewood, from the University of Queensland said that most of the newly discovered toxins were overlooked in the past.
"We also discovered six original 'frameworks' - 3D-shaped molecules suitable as drug leads - which we expect will support drug development in the near future," Alewood said.
For over two decades, scientists have discovered 25 frameworks that have led to the development of a drug or drug leads for diseases. The researchers likewise said that they hope to find other more interesting molecules in the venom of other species using the new method of analysis. They said that the new approach could be used in studying protein expression from cells and for research in related fields that could potentially offer scientists with better understanding of biology as well as allow them to look for disease patterns and discover new drugs.