Bull ants evolve a new way to target pain

Bull ant

Bull ants are quite aggressive little critters. If you’ve ever been bitten by one, you really know about it.

But it seems they have evolved a venom molecule perfectly tuned to target the echidna. It could have implications for people with long-term pain.

Dr Sam Robinson and David Eagles from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience found a bull ant venom component that exploits a pain pathway in mammals which they believe evolved to stop echidnas attacking the ant’s nests.

Whilst searching databases for similar amino-acid sequences, Dr Robinson found that the molecule matched the sequence of mammalian hormones related to Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), and of these, was most closely related to that of the echidna. Only echidnas are known to attack bull ant nests and target their young; it’s likely that this molecule is making the echidna sensitive to pain as well as feeling the immediate ‘bee-sting’ pain. These two together may dissuade it from returning to the nests.

The EGF pathways is already well known in humans and EGF-inhibitor drugs are being used in anticancer therapy to slow tumour growth. Interestingly, there is evidence of less long-term pain in patients receiving these therapies.

The team believes the links between EGF signalling and chronic pain are building momentum and is confident this study could inspire new ways to treat long-term pain.

Source article: Bull ant evolves new way to target pain.

I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 5 March 2022. Listen each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.

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