Fish with heroin-like toxins: approach for new pain reliever?

New pain reliever? Fish poison with an effect like heroin
Natural toxins often offer good options for medical use. For example, the discovery of a heroin-like poison in small coral fish by Australian researchers at the University of Queensland is giving hope for the development of new pain relievers. But at the same time, the researchers warn of the destruction of such natural sources for drug production in the wake of global environmental degradation.

The small saber-toothed mucus fish (Nemophini) from the genus Meiacanthus inject other fish with opioid peptides that act like heroin or morphine, reports the research team led by Professor Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland. "Your secret weapons are two large, grooved teeth on your lower jaw that are connected to venom glands," explains Professor Fry. According to the researchers, the poison glands contain a unique toxin. Prof. Fry and colleagues have published their research results in the "Current Biology" magazine.

Poison knocks out competitors and attackers
The saber-toothed mucus live in Pacific waters and are also found on the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast. In addition, the fish are often kept as aquarium fish. “These fish fascinate in their behavior. They fearlessly face potential predators, while also fighting intensively for their territory with fish of similar size, ”reports Prof. Fry. They owe their success to a unique poison. According to the researchers, this acts similarly to heroin on bitten fish. Attackers and competitors are slowed down in their movement by the poison and their orientation is severely impaired. “To put that in a human context, opioid peptides would be the last thing an elite Olympic swimmer would use as performance-enhancing substances. You would drown rather than win gold, ”Prof. Fry explains the effect.

With environmental degradation, many sources of medicines are lost
According to the Australian researchers, saber-toothed bludgeons have one of the most fascinating poisons in the animal world and the effect raises hopes of extensive use as a pain reliever. But this is also an excellent example of why we have to protect nature. "If we lose the Great Barrier Reef, we lose animals like the Nemophini and their unique poison, which can be the source of promising pain relievers," warned Professor Fry. A warning that has been put forward many times, for example in relation to the extinction of species in the Amazon or the destruction of the jungle in general. Comprehensive protection of ecological resources is therefore urgently required from this point of view as well. (fp)

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