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Cold-Resistant Octopus Venom Discovered

July 22, 2010

Four never before discovered species of octopus–as well as venom that remains effective at sub-zero temperatures–have been located by researchers, according to a Wednesday press release from the University of Melbourne.

An international team of researchers, including experts from the University of Melbourne, the Norwegian University of Technology and Science and the University of Hamburg, are responsible for the discovery–which, according to the press release could wind up “significantly advancing our understanding of the properties of venom as a potential resource for drug-development.”

“This is the first study that has collected Antarctic octopus venom and confirmed that these creatures have adapted it to work in sub zero temperatures,” said lead researcher Dr. Bryan Fry of the Australian university’s Bio21 Institute. “The next step is to work out what biochemical tricks they have used.”

According to Fry, the scientists have discovered two new toxins in the Antarctic octopus venom, including small proteins “with very intriguing activities” that he says “are potentially useful in drug design”¦ An understanding of the structure and mode of action of venom found in all octopuses may help design drugs for conditions like pain management, allergies and cancer.”

Fry and his colleagues made their discoveries during a 2007 expedition to Antarctica, which lasted six weeks. They have published their findings in Toxicon, the official journal of the International Society on Toxinology (IST), though the press release notes that they plan to continue studying the venom.

“Evolutionary selection pressures slowly changed their venom, which allowed them to spread into colder and colder waters and eventually spread into super-cold waters,” Fry told Tan Ee Lyn of Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday. “We want to see what cool and wonderful new venom components we can find out of these venoms that would be useful in drug development.”

“Nature has designed a perfect killing weapon … they have such incredibly accurate activity that there has to be a way to harness that. To tweak it or modify it or just use one little chunk,” he added.

Image Caption: Antarctic octopus (Paraledone turqueti). Credit: E. Jorgensen, NOAA 2007

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