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

Joshua P. Torres, Zhenjian Lin, Maren Watkins, Paula Flórez Salcedo, Robert P. Baskin, Shireen Elhabian, Helena Safavi-Hemami, Dylan Taylor, Jortan Tun, Gisela P. Concepcion, Noel Saguil, Angel A. Yanagihara, Yixin Fang, Jeffrey R. McArthur, Han Shen Tae, Rocio K. Finol-Urdaneta, B. Duygu Özpolat, Baldomero M. Olivera, Eric W. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabf2704
JournalScience Advances
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 12 2021


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