'Arms race' and evolution

Published: Tuesday 31 August 1999

Thomas Duda and Stephen Palumbi of Harvard University say that cone snails have the world's fastest evolving genes due to an 'arms race'. The predatory snails have hundreds of neurotoxins in their venom that kills fish, worms and other snails. The researchers studied how quickly two species of snails, Conus abbreviatus and Conus lividus , developed new toxins since they diverged about 10 millions years ago. Duda and Palumbi found that at least 1.7 per cent of the snail's toxin-producing genes change every one million years. The rate is five times faster than the fastest-evolving mammalian genes. Palumbi says that an arms race between the snails and their diverse prey drives this evolution ( Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Vol 96, p6820).

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