A new study conducted by researchers at Oxford University has shed some light on how scorpion venom became the deadly toxin that it is well known for. To put it simply, one small genetic mutation made a harmless and non-toxic protein become a dangerous and highly toxic venom.
Scorpion venom has its roots in a type of antimicrobial protein that eventually mutated into a dangerous toxin. The antimicrobial proteins being discussed in this short paper are known as defensins. Defensins are proteins that are found in plants and animals, and their purpose is to ward off viral, bacterial or fungal pests.
Discovering how a protective protein could mutate into a dangerous substance turned out to be rather painless. First researchers examined insect defensins thinking that insect’s defensins would be the most likely source of an insect venom. What they found was that the insect defensins could be converted into the toxic scorpion venom solely by one single genetic deletion event. This is the first study to demonstrate a link between insect defensins and insect venom.
Did the scorpion develop a toxic venom because the scorpions environment pressured the development of a toxin for the sake of the scorpions survival? Or was the toxin created completely randomly with no influence from the outside environment?