Scientists at the University of Queensland claim that Australian bull ants have evolved a venom molecule perfect designed to target one of their predators the echidna, which might also have implications for people with long-term headaches.
A bull ant venom component developed by Dr Sam Robinson and David Eagles from the UQs Institute for Molecular Bioscience has been discovered in mammals, which they believe could be an early cure for echidnas.
Venoms are complex cocktails and while bull ant venom contains molecules similar to those found in honey bee stings, which cause immediate pain, we also discovered an intriguing new molecule that was different, according to Dr Robinson.
During a search for similar amino-acid sequences, Dr Robinson discovered that the molecule corresponded to the sequence of mammalian hormones linked to the Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), and that these groups were most closely related to the echidna.
We tested the venom molecule on mammalian EGF receptors and it was very powerful, which convinced us that the venom molecule was capable of protecting against mammals.
While it did not cause direct pain, it did also cause long-term hypersensitivity, according to reports.
Many small carnivorous marsupials, like bandicoots, eat individual ants, but only the echidna is known to attack bull ant nests and target their young we believe that making the echidna sensitive to pain, combined with the immediate bee-sting pain, may hinder it from returning to the nests.
The ants DNA has shown that it is developing a protein that mimics the natural enemy''s hormone and is therefore using it as a weapon against it. The ancientproverb has brought to mind that to know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
The team believes that the links between EGF signalling and chronic pain are building momentum, and is confident that this study might help us develop strategies to deal with long-term pain.
EGF-inhibitor medications are readily available on the market and used in anti-cancer therapy to reduce tumour growth, with evidence suggesting patients who take the patient experience less long-term pain.
We hope that by highlighting the significance of this signalling technique in pain, we may encourage different therapies for pain treatment, particularly long-term pain, for which treatment is currently limited.