Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Evolution of the Scorpion Sting

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

It is not the first thing that springs to mind if your sensitive fleshy foot discovers a scorpions hiding place, but scientists have discovered that the venom is connected to defensin proteins which are used to fight off infections from virus’ and bacteria in plants and animals.

Evolution of the Scorpion Sting

Image courtesy of Mike Baird

Looking at the genetic codes in both toxins and proteins, the similarities were too low to make a connection therefore after over 20 years of confusion over the link between plants and animals defensin proteins and scorpion venom, for the first time scientists have finally managed to connect the evolutionary relationship between the two.

Whereas the proteins found in plants and animals are used as a form of defence against viral, bacterial and fungal attacks this new study shows that one single genetic mutation changes the protein into a deadly toxin. This deadly toxin is used to kill or paralyze prey and defend against predators so there is little wonder why the interest into this research subject is so high considering they are at either ends of the spectrum at first glance.

Leading the study, Professor Shunyi Zhu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his team analysed the signature of the scorpion neurotoxin which is named the ‘Scorpion toxic signature (STS)’  and refers to the part of the protein which is responsible for its structure and function. Once they had the sequence from the STS they then compared it to a range of protein sequences and noted down the ones that matched. Surprisingly for Prof Zhu and his team they found that it matched only the insect defensins from venomous insects such as green shield bugs.

To test their theory they manipulated the protein to the point where it completely matched the STS and in doing so they discovered that only one mutation was needed for this change to occur. It just goes to show that in the blink of an eye evolution will change a seemingly harmless trait into a dangerous attack strategy.

By Kelly Gimson

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