Scientists Discover Neurotoxins in Ant Stings Comparable to Snake, Scorpion Venom

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Researchers from the University of Queensland have made a groundbreaking discovery that reveals the presence of neurotoxins in ant stings, akin to the venom found in snakes and scorpions, we learned in a report shared by

This significant finding sheds light on the excruciating pain caused by ant stings and can potentially revolutionize our understanding of pain. 

The research, conducted by Dr. Sam Robinson and his team at UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, has been published in Nature Communications.

A Closer Look at Ant Venoms

Studies tell us that ant venoms are packed with various substances, including toxins, salts, sugars, formic acid, biogenic amines, alkaloids, amino acids, hydrocarbons, peptides, and proteins. 

However, ants produce a limited amount of venom due to their small size. Some ants produce as little as 10 grams or even less of dry venom, while others can produce up to 300 grams. 

In comparison, spiders, scorpions, and snakes produce only 0.1 to 300 milligrams of dry venom per individual.

Neurotoxins Discovered in Ants

The study at hand focused on the Australian green ant and the South American bullet ant, both known for their stings that induce long-lasting pain. 

According to Dr. Robinson, our nerve cells responsible for pain signals are specifically targeted by ant venoms. Normally, when stimulated, the sodium channels in these cells open briefly. 

However, Robinson's team made an interesting discovery: ant toxins bind to these sodium channels, causing them to stay open and active for longer. As a result, a continuous pain signal is transmitted.

The pain inflicted by bullet ant stings can be quite persistent, lasting up to 12 hours. It is characterized by a deep drilling sensation in the bones, accompanied by sweating and goosebumps. 

This starkly contrasts the fleeting discomfort caused by a typical bee sting, which subsides in about 10 minutes. 

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Understanding Pain at the Molecular Level

The implications of this research extend beyond understanding the agony associated with ant stings. 

Dr. Robinson highlights the potential applications in pain management: "We want to understand pain at a molecular level, and toxins are fantastic tools to do this. 

"These neurotoxins, which target sodium channels, are unique to ants. No one has found anything that looks or acts in the same way. Therefore, we now have a new set of tools to work with," he adds.

Ants have evolved these defensive neurotoxins over millions of years to ward off predators, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Their success as a species can be attributed, in part, to this remarkable adaptation.

As further investigations unfold, scientists anticipate that a more comprehensive understanding of pain mechanisms will emerge, potentially leading to innovative treatments and interventions for pain relief. 

The discovery of these ant neurotoxins not only elucidates the fascinating world of ant adaptations but also opens up new avenues for scientific inquiry and therapeutic development.

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