Stings, barbs and slime: The molecular evolution of fish venom

A project undertaken at the Australian Venom Research Unit, Department of Pharmacology, University of Melbourne, and supervised by Dr Bryan Grieg Fry

The aim of this multi-disciplinary proposal is to examine the molecular evolution of toxic proteins across the full taxonomical spectrum of venomous Australian fish, ranging from tropical species in the Great Barrier Reef through to deep water species from Australia's Antarctic waters. The project will elucidate the underlying structure-function relationships between these toxic proteins. Through a process utilising cutting edge analytical techniques, such as cDNA cloning and molecular modelling, a feedback loop of bioactivity testing will be created to contribute substantially towards the area of drug design and development from toxic animal peptides.

This proposal represents a tremendous opportunity for biodiscovery from Australian toxic marine fauna. This will be achieved through the researchers' unique approach of investigating previously unmapped venom systems for divergent, bioactive proteins. An understanding of venomous animal protein evolution has practical implications for the treatment of envenomations - an enormous problem in Australia - as well as great potential in drug discovery and other commercial applications. This project will provide Australian graduate and post-graduate students with finely tuned skills in cutting edge methodological techniques and a fluent understanding of molecular evolution, preparing them to be internationally competitive scientists.

 

Dr. Bryan Fry with specimens from bottom trawls at 500-1000 metres. The target species was Chimera monstrosa, (top photo) a relative of sharks and rays who's venom has never been studied. The other specimens are Halibut (middle photo) and Grenadier (bottom photo)