Sexual enticements to lure your prey out of hiding? Yes, say cone snails.

Cone snails aren’t glamorous. They don’t have svelte waistlines or jaw-dropping good looks. Yet, some of these worm-hunting gastropods are the femme fatales or lady killers of the undersea world…According to the results of a new study, some cone snails use a previously undetected set of small molecules that mimic the effects of worm pheromones to drive marine worms into a sexual frenzy, making it easier to lure them out of their hiding places so the snails can gobble them up.

“In essence, these cone snails have found a way to turn the natural sex drive of their prey into a lethal weapon. What’s exciting about this finding is that they are doing it using an interesting set of small molecules that could one day inspire the development of new types of medications to alleviate pain and other conditions.”

-Eric W. Schmidt, Ph.D., senior author of the study and professor of medicinal chemistry at U of U Health

Journal Reference:  Joshua P. Torres, Zhenjian Lin, Maren Watkins, Paula Flórez Salcedo, Robert P. Baskin, Shireen Elhabian, Helena Safavi-Hemami, Dylan Taylor, Jortan Tun, Gisela P. Concepcion, Noel Saguil, Angel A. Yanagihara, Yixin Fang, Jeffrey R. McArthur, Han-Shen Tae, Rocio K. Finol-Urdaneta, B. Duygu Özpolat, Baldomero M. Olivera, Eric W. Schmidt. Small-molecule mimicry hunting strategy in the imperial cone snail, Conus imperialis. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (11): eabf2704 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf2704