Who cares about the African cone snail? Who cares about preserving biodiversity?
The 40 million Americans with arthritis and the 45 million who suffer chronic headaches should. The employers who lose 93 million work days from employees with lower back pain should. The million people diagnosed with cancer each year ought to.
That's because Australian researchers have extracted molecules from the venom of cone snails and from African plants, and used them to develop a pill to treat chronic pain, according to Research Australia.
Neuropathic pain is one of the most severe forms of chronic pain, and very difficult to treat, said Dr. Richard Clark, who with David Craik is studying how to develop the new pain killer as a medicine. Regular pain occurs when the nervous system is stimulated by, for example, an injury, whereas neuropathic pain occurs when the nervous system itself is damaged.
So we know why we should value the cone snail. Why biodiversity?
Simple. We didn't know to care about the cone snail until it was poked, prodded and its venom extracted, dilute, amplified, combined with plant compounds and studied in a lab.
In other words: We don't know what the next organism is that will yield some useful compound. There are ethical and scientific arguments for preserving the diversity of life that evolution has produced on Earth. But this is a simple, selfish argument: The frog that disappears from Earth today won't yield the wonder drug of tomorrow.
And the rate of extinctions today is staggering. By some estimates, 40% of all species on Earth are endangered.
Venom from cone snails like this one have yielded a promising new treatment for chronic pain.
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