Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cone snails are for life, not just at Christmas

Date:
December 23, 2013
Source:
University of York
Summary:
Those who fly to tropical shores this Christmas in search of sea and sun may be unaware that an exotic shell picked from the beach could potentially bring relief to many thousands of people suffering life-threatening illnesses.

Cone snails live in warm tropical seas and manufacture powerful venom to immobilize their prey of fish, worms and other snails. Scientists are using these neurotoxins increasingly for research into the development of life-saving drugs.
Credit: University of York

Those who fly to tropical shores this Christmas in search of sea and sun may be unaware that an exotic shell picked from the beach could potentially bring relief to many thousands of people suffering life-threatening illnesses.

But cone snails, as they are known from their shape, are unprotected and under increasing threat of extinction according to a pioneering new study by researchers at the University of York, UK. Their loss could rob future generations of an, as yet, undiscovered reservoir of pharmaceuticals.

Cone snails live in warm tropical seas and manufacture powerful venom to immobilize their prey of fish, worms and other snails. Scientists are using these neurotoxins increasingly for research into the development of life-saving drugs.

Across the world, however, tropical marine habitats are being lost due to coastal development, pollution, destructive fishing and climate change, resulting in rapid species loss. A new global assessment of all 632 species of cone snails for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List by researchers from the Environment Department at the University of York -- the first for any group of marine snails -- finds that some species are at imminent risk of extinction. Research, published in PLOS ONE, disproves the notion that the vastness of the oceans assures the survival of marine species. It reveals clusters of species occupying small areas that could quickly disappear as threats escalate.

Blessed with beautiful and coveted shells, cone snails have been collected for hundreds, possibly thousands of years -- cone shells have been found in ancient Neolithic sites and there is a Rembrandt etching of a cone shell from 1650. Some rare specimens change hands for thousands of dollars, a popularity which brings welcome income to thousands of poor people who hunt for shells for sale to dealers and tourists.

More importantly, during their evolution, cone snails have developed complex venoms, some powerful enough to kill people. Scientists are now using these for research into novel drugs for the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of pernicious medical conditions including intense chronic pain, epilepsy, asthma and multiple sclerosis.

Lead author, Howard Peters, of the Environment Department at York, says: "Cone snails are seeing rapid shrinkage of their habitats as human impacts multiply. We found that 67 species are currently threatened or near-threatened with extinction worldwide, but this rises to nearly half of all species (42) in the Eastern Atlantic, where there is an extraordinary concentration of range-restricted species. In Cape Verde, 53 species are found nowhere else in the world of which 43 live only around single islands. Here, pollution and shoreline construction for the expanding tourist industry threaten their existence. Sand is being dredged from the shallows where cone snails live to make concrete for resorts, harbours and cruise liner terminals. Collection of shells by divers and snorkelers could hasten their demise."

The study found an almost complete lack of protection for cone snails anywhere in the world.

Howard Peters says: "Despite their extraordinary beauty and value, cone snails have fallen completely underneath the conservation radar. These snails need swift action to protect their habitats and publicise the dire consequences of irresponsible shell collecting of the most threatened species. Holidaymakers need to think twice before taking a seashell home as a souvenir."

Co-author Professor Callum Roberts adds: "This study provides an important yardstick from which to measure our growing impact on molluscs, one of the richest groups in the sea, and the long-term consequences of ocean acidification. Ocean acidity is increasing due to fossil fuel burning as carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea. Without action to reduce emissions, rising acidity could cause shelled marine creatures to literally dissolve away by the end of this century."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Howard Peters, Bethan C. O'Leary, Julie P. Hawkins, Kent E. Carpenter, Callum M. Roberts. Conus: First Comprehensive Conservation Red List Assessment of a Marine Gastropod Mollusc Genus. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (12): e83353 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083353

Cite This Page:

University of York. "Cone snails are for life, not just at Christmas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131223181344.htm>.
University of York. (2013, December 23). Cone snails are for life, not just at Christmas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131223181344.htm
University of York. "Cone snails are for life, not just at Christmas." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131223181344.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

Howdini (July 24, 2014) Smoothies are a great way to get in lots of healthy ingredients, plus they taste great! Howdini has a trick for making the perfect single-size smoothie that will save you time on cleanup too! All you need is a blender and a mason jar. Video provided by Howdini
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins