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Biodiversity at a Snail's Pace


Cone snails have evolved many different toxins for different uses. Total molecular biodiversity may number in the millions.

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Cone snail venoms have a wide variety of effects, ranging from convulsive shock, to paralysis, to sedation. The venoms contain a mixture of peptide toxins that simultaneously attack different molecular targets of the nervous system. The evolution of such a diversity of toxins is made possible by multiple gene superfamilies containing hypervariable sequences. The research and medical value of a group of animals like the cone snails is a powerful reminder of what we can learn from biodiversity. Venomous relatives of the cone snails—the turrid snails—number over 10,000 known species, representing a million compounds of potential pharmacological value.

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