Turns out that marine cone snails may do more than just sting fish and reel them in for the kill with their powerful conotoxin - the same toxic can mitigate pain in humans, or paralyze your enemies for a hilarious comeuppance.
At the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, David J. Craik and his snail studiers have identified a way that the peptide toxins released by the marine snail - a naturally less-than-speedy fella - can be adapted for human use.
In its natural habitat, the snail just hangs around, looking for an easy kill. Fish go zipping by it, mocking it with their sleek silver bodies and stupid ugly fish-faces. Not to be stymied, however, the snail fires off a needle-like sticker from its mouth, piercing these flaunting fish and brining their forward momentum to a floundering halt.
The marine sea snail - badass of the underwater kingdom.
Along with the toxins that cripple and maim its fishy food, the conotoxin also contains peptides that can be used to treat massive amounts of human pain just like morphine, but without the "oh God oh God I want me some more MORRRRPHINE" side-effects.
The problem until now has been with administration. While the peptides could be isolated, getting them in to the human body required an injection in the spine, something that many people would pass over in favour of continuing their crippling pain experience.
Now, Craik and his team have found a way to synthesize a protein that can be taken orally and still have the "oh hell yeah that's good" effects of the powerful toxin.
The team is currently working on ways to make the peptide stable and not revert to either an unusable or hilariously debilitating form, and is trying to raise funds for a Investigational New Drug Application, which will allow the process to be taken a step further.
Cyclized Peptide: Stable and strong.
We are all for anything that a) lessens pain and b) can be taken orally as opposed to any "other" method of bodily intake. Some cavities are exit-only, thank you very much.
Pictures - Snail Pic - Bruce Levitt and David Paul. Peptide Pic - Agnew Chem Int Ltd.