Here’s the key ingredient that lets a centipede’s bite take down prey | Science News

ADVERTISEMENT

REAL SCIENCE. REAL NEWS.

Help us keep you informed.

Support Science News.



Science Ticker

A roundup of research
and breaking news

Science News Staff
Science Ticker

Here’s the key ingredient that lets a centipede’s bite take down prey

The good news is an epilepsy drug helps counteract the creepy-crawly’s newly identified ‘spooky toxin’

centipede attacking lab mouse

RECIPE FOR DISASTER  Despite the lab mouse’s much greater weight, chemistry gives this centipede the decisive advantage.

Sponsor Message

Knocking out an animal 15 times your size — no problem. A newly identified toxin in the venom of a tropical centipede helps the arthropod to overpower giant prey in about 30 seconds.

Insight into how this venom overwhelms lab mice could lead to an antidote for people who suffer excruciatingly painful, reportedly even fatal, centipede bites, an international research team reports the week of January 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In Hawaii, centipede bites account for about 400 emergency room visits a year, according to data from 2004 to 2008. The main threat there is Scolopendra subspinipes, an agile species almost as long as a human hand.

The subspecies S. subspinipes mutilans starred in studies at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China and collaborating labs. Researchers there found a small peptide, now named “spooky toxin,” largely responsible for venom misery.

This toxin blocks a molecular channel that normally lets potassium flow through cell membranes. A huge amount of the biochemistry of staying alive involves potassium, so clogging some of what are called KCNQ channels caused mayhem in mice: slow and gasping breath, high blood pressure, frizzling nerve dysfunctions and so on. Administering the epilepsy drug retigabine opened the potassium channels and counteracted much of the toxin’s effects, raising hopes of a treatment for these bites.


Editor's note: This story was updated January 23, 2017, to correct the classification of centipedes.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More Context posts

From the Nature Index Paid Content