Unlikely Pair Share Toxin | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 43 | p. 34 | Concentrates
Issue Date: October 22, 2012

Unlikely Pair Share Toxin

Study reveals that a predatory sea snail and butterfly rely on a common toxic peptide for defense
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: butterfly, wings, sea snail, toxin, chemical ecology
Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Great Orange Tip butterfly Hebomoia galucippe
Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Credit: James P. McVey, NOAA
A triangular snail with a black and yellow shell.
Credit: James P. McVey, NOAA

The great orange tip butterfly and the spotted sea snail share a chemical defense mechanism.

You wouldn’t expect a great orange tip butterfly and a predatory sea snail to have much in common, but researchers in Austria have discovered that the animals have the same chemical defense weapon: a 63-amino-acid peptide toxin called glacontryphan-M. The compound blocks the action of a voltage-gated calcium channel required for body movement in ants, spiders, lizards, frogs, birds, and even mammals (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1209632109). Gert Lubec and colleagues at Medical University of Vienna made the discovery after grinding wings from the butterfly Hebomoia glaucippe for a proteomics analysis designed to figure out why so many bird, ant, and insect predators avoid consuming the butterfly’s wings, choosing instead to feast on its tiny body. The team discovered that the wings contain glacontryphan-M, a potent toxin previously found only in the sea snail Conus marmoreus. The researchers note that they are now looking to see whether glacontryphan-M is also found in other poisonous animals to answer the evolutionary question of why a butterfly and a sea snail share a specific toxin.

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ISSN 0009-2347
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