Those who fly to tropical shores this Christmas in search of sea and sun may be unaware that an exotic shell picked from the beach could potentially bring relief to many thousands of people suffering life-threatening illnesses.
But cone snails, as they are known from their shape, are unprotected and under increasing threat of extinction according to a pioneering new study by researchers at the University of York, UK. Their loss could rob future generations of an, as yet, undiscovered reservoir of pharmaceuticals.
Cone snails live in warm tropical seas and manufacture powerful venom to immobilize their prey of fish, worms and other snails. Scientists are using these neurotoxins increasingly for research into the development of life-saving drugs.
Across the world, however, tropical marine habitats are being lost due to coastal development, pollution, destructive fishing and climate change, resulting in rapid species loss. A new global assessment of all 632 species of cone snails for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List by researchers from the Environment Department at the University of York -- the first for any group of marine snails -- finds that some species are at imminent risk of extinction. Research, published this week in PLOS ONE http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083353, disproves the notion that the vastness of the oceans assures the survival of marine species. It reveals clusters of species occupying small areas that could quickly disappear as threats escalate.
Blessed with beautiful and coveted shells, cone snails have been collected for hundreds, possibly thousands of years -- cone shells have been found in ancient Neolithic sites and there is a Rembrandt etching of a cone shell from 1650. Some rare specimens change hands for thousands of dollars, a popularity which brings welcome income to thousands of poor peo
|Contact: David Garner|
University of York