Research ArticleECOLOGY

Small-molecule mimicry hunting strategy in the imperial cone snail, Conus imperialis

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Science Advances  12 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 11, eabf2704
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf2704

Abstract

Venomous animals hunt using bioactive peptides, but relatively little is known about venom small molecules and the resulting complex hunting behaviors. Here, we explored the specialized metabolites from the venom of the worm-hunting cone snail, Conus imperialis. Using the model polychaete worm Platynereis dumerilii, we demonstrate that C. imperialis venom contains small molecules that mimic natural polychaete mating pheromones, evoking the mating phenotype in worms. The specialized metabolites from different cone snails are species-specific and structurally diverse, suggesting that the cones may adopt many different prey-hunting strategies enabled by small molecules. Predators sometimes attract prey using the prey’s own pheromones, in a strategy known as aggressive mimicry. Instead, C. imperialis uses metabolically stable mimics of those pheromones, indicating that, in biological mimicry, even the molecules themselves may be disguised, providing a twist on fake news in chemical ecology.

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