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Garden snails provide ‘cure’ for antibiotic resistance, cancers, diabetes, skin blemishes

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Scientists have employed garden snails to fight antibiotic resistance, cancers, scars and skin blemishes, and to produce faster-acting insulin.

Until now, the slime of the Giant African Land Snail (GALS) also called African land Tiger snail (Achatina achatina) has been employed by traditional medicine practitioners in the treatment of asthma and hypertension.

The Gastropoda or gastropods, more commonly known as snails and slugs, are a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca. The small grey snail, Cryptomphalus aspersa also called Helix aspersa, is one of the over 20 edible species of snail found in Europe and North America.

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Snail meat of these species is known as ‘escargot’ in France; snail meat of GALS is sometimes exported from Africa and sold as ‘escargot achantine.’GALS also called African land Tiger snails, more specifically the species Achatina achatina, Achatina fulica and Achatina marginata. These belong to the family Achatinidae. GALS is called katantawa in Hausa, ejula in Ibo, and ilako or isan in Yoruba.

Researchers from Michael Okpara University Of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State have studied the nutrient composition of the flesh of GALS.The proximate analysis revealed that the snail sample is a high protein source but low in fat. The analysis for the mineral composition revealed that it has reasonable values of calcium, potassium and sodium. The essential elements such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc were also detected. The calcium/phosphorous (Ca/P) ratio (4.18) is very good. However, the sodium/potassium (Na/K) ratio (1.68) gives room for much concern and especially in the diets of people who are prone to high blood pressure.

Analysis for the vitamin composition revealed that it has appreciable values of vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin. The researchers said snail meat is a high protein source and can serve as a suitable substitute for beef and chicken meats, as well as fish, in providing essential nutrients for good health.

Meanwhile, in the latest research, two British scientists have discovered new proteins from the garden snail that can fight harmful bacteria. The researchers are optimistic that the humble garden snail could provide a solution to antibiotic resistance, the phenomenon of harmful bacteria becoming unresponsive to drugs that could previously defeat them.

The two researchers, who are a couple, are from the United Kingdom, Dr. Sarah Pitt, principal lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science at the University of Brighton; and Dr. Alan Gunn, subject lead for biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.

According to Pitt, the idea just occurred to her husband, who expressed curiosity about the resilience of garden snails: “He was idly wondering about snails moving over the soil, etc., in a garden which is full of bacteria and how/why they appear to stay healthy. Was there something in the mucus which fought against infections?”

This snail mucus soon became the subject of an undergraduate student project that Gunn coordinated to investigate whether any components of the mucus might have antimicrobial properties.

The researchers’ study yielded some surprising results — they discovered four previously unknown proteins in the snail mucus. Moreover, two of these proteins proved to have strong antimicrobial properties, particularly against aggressive strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes dangerous lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis.

In their study, the results of which now appear in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, the researchers collected mucus from common garden snails (Cornu aspersum) and found that it was able to inhibit various strains of P. aeruginosa that had come from individuals with cystic fibrosis-related infections.

“In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium P. aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria,” said Pitt.

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“So, in this study,” she continued, “we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the university as well as five strains taken from patients with [cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium.”Pitt collaborated with researchers from King’s College London, U.K., to separate proteins from the snail mucus and then test each of them, controlling for antibacterial properties.

As a result, the investigators identified no fewer than four previously unknown proteins, of which three appeared to be effective against different bacterial strains. One of them, “the 37.4 kDa protein, to be named Aspernin,” the study paper explains, has strong antimicrobial properties and a lot of therapeutic potential.

Another two of the new proteins, which the team labeled “17.5 kDa” and “18.6 kDa,” are apparently able to attack infection-causing P. aeruginosa, in particular.“P. aeruginosa is a very important cause of lung infections in patients with [cystic fibrosis], and strains which are resistant to the most commonly used antibiotic treatments are becoming increasingly common,” Pitt emphasised, noting that for this reason, “a new antibiotic would be useful.”

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The current discoveries open up new possibilities for therapeutic approaches, and the researchers are hopeful that, in the future, they may be able to work the proteins with healing potential into novel treatments.“If we can make the proteins artificially in the lab, we can try and work out what they are doing to the bacterium. We think that it might be possible to incorporate the purified protein into a cream to treat deep burn wounds and possibly an aerosol to treat lung infections,” said Pitt.
Snail venom key to faster-acting insulin

A study of the crystalline 3-D structure of insulin extracted from the venom of a marine snail reveals a potential way to make insulin for the treatment of diabetes act more rapidly.The venom of the marine cone snail contains fast-acting insulin that puts its prey into hypoglycemic shock.

Researchers from Australia and the United States have discovered that the venom of Conus geographus contains a highly efficient natural protein – called Con-Ins G1 – that operates faster than human insulin.They also found that the protein is able to bind to human insulin receptors, suggesting it could work as a treatment for diabetes.

The team reported the findings in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
Diabetes is where the body either does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or cannot use it properly (type 2 diabetes).
The body needs insulin to allow blood sugar (glucose) to enter cells for use as energy. If the body has insufficient insulin, or loses the ability to use it properly, the sugar builds up in the blood. High blood sugar can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, and amputation of toes, feet, or legs.

For their study, Mike Lawrence, associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues, used the Australian Synchrotron to analyze the 3-D structure of the cone snail venom insulin protein.
Snail slime/venom provides novel drug for pains and cancers

University of Queensland researchers, in the latest study, have discovered thousands of new molecules hidden deep within the venom of the snail, representing promising leads for new drugs to treat pain and cancer.In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe a new method for analyzing the structure of the venom toxins.

The cone snail species studied by the researchers, Conus episcopatus, is found along the east coast of Australia and is one of 700 different species of cone snails.

Cone snails shoot venom-tipped harpoons into their prey, such as fish, immobilising them long enough for the mollusk to consume them. They have been responsible for serious injuries and some fatalities in humans.

Also, research suggests that sea snails hold the key to releasing women from some of the most deadly cancers.Flinders University researcher Vicki Edwards has discovered a compound, which selectively targets and kills cells in ovarian cancer – one of the most deadly cancers for women.

“These compounds are not at all toxic to mice, so it’s really promising because that’s the hardest thing when you are developing any new drug,” Edwards said.

“This result highlights the potential to develop a new treatment for female reproductive cancers.”She said a chemist had also synthesised the compound, which she hoped would produce the same results.Extracts can regenerative skin, providing novel treatment for scars, skin blemishes and skin ageing

An earlier study by Spanish and United States researchers had demonstrated that a cream made from extracts of a European and North American snail (Cryptomphalus aspersa or Helix aspersa) can regenerative the skin, thereby providing novel treatment for scars, skin blemishes and skin ageing.

Indeed, a screen for natural products bearing pharmacological properties has yielded a secretion of the snail (gastropod) Cryptomphalus aspersa, also popularly known as escargot, which possesses skin-regenerative properties.

The report, published in Skin Pharmacology & Physiology, the Journal of the International Society of Pharmacological and Biophysical Research outlined some of the cellular and molecular effects underlying this observation and the secretion’s many benefits for human skin.

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The study is titled “Molecular Basis for the regenerative Properties of a Secretion of the Mollusk Cryptomphalus aspersa.”The researchers from Spain and United States found that the snail slime secretion contains antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD) and Glutathione-S-Transferase Activity (GST) activities.

Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS). SODs act as antioxidants and protect cellular components from being oxidized by reactive oxygen species.

GST catalyzes the nucleophilic conjugation of glutathione (GSH) with many diverse electrophilic substrates. Glutathione conjugation is a major mechanism of detoxification in mammals and detoxification of at least six major families of herbicides in plants.

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