Moth caterpillar toxins – a potential source of novel pharmaceuticals
Like many slug moths, named after the curious shape of their caterpillars, the Australian mottled cup moth (Doratifera vulnerans) knows how to protect itself. Its caterpillar (pictured, in its grey form) can inflict painful stings with its venomous spines, and advertises this danger with startling colours, a strategy known as aposematism. Delving into the precise composition of D. vulnerans’ venom reveals a surprisingly complex cocktail, involving multiple families of peptides, short chains of amino acids, fulfilling several roles: acting against microbes, nematodes and insects, as well as causing pain to vertebrates. Despite evolving independently, many of the toxin components resemble substances found in other venomous arthropods, like spiders and wasps, but with their own unique variations. Venomous animals have yielded a host of important compounds for medicine, used to treat conditions from hypertension to diabetes, and the diversity of slug moth toxins could provide the next source of biomedical inspiration.
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