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Nature & Environment

The nightmarish bloodworm has fangs made of metal

By T.K. Randall
May 2, 2022 · Comment icon 1 comment

The stuff of nightmares... Image Credit: Pontin et al., PNAS, 2007
With its four venom-laced fangs made of copper, this is one sea creature you definitely don't want to mess with.
It might sound like something out of a science-fiction horror movie, but the bloodworm - otherwise known as the 'bristle worm' - is very much the real deal.

Capable of reaching up to 35cm in length, these horrific marine polychaetes can be found embedded in the sediment at the bottom of the sea where they await any prey unfortunate enough to swim by.

But what makes these creatures particularly unusual is their strong jaws and prominent fangs which are laced with venom and are comprised of an unusually large percentage of copper.

"These are very disagreeable worms in that they are ill-tempered and easily provoked," said biochemist Herbert Waite.
"When they encounter another worm, they usually fight using their copper jaws as weapons."

The question of how these worms have so much metal in their fangs has remained a mystery for years, but now a new study has helped to shed light on this enigma by revealing the existence of a structural protein in its fangs (multi-tasking protein (MTP)) that helps the copper and melanin to bind together.

The discovery is quite significant, because such a process - if it could be replicated - could pave the way towards new and more efficient manufacturing processes.

"We never expected protein with such a simple composition, that is, mostly glycine and histidine, to perform this many functions and unrelated activities," said Waite.

"These materials could be road signs for how to make and engineer better consumer materials."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (1)

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