Our laboratory conducts research using the venomous predatory cone snail Conus. Our HHMI program involves two projects: a biodiversity education initiative and an undergraduate program in neuroscience for majors in diverse science and engineering disciplines.
Our laboratory has discovered and characterized peptide ligands targeted to ion channels. These are found in the venoms of the approximately 700 species of predatory cone snails (marine gastropods that belong to the genus Conus). The approximately 70 cone snail species that hunt fish are a particular focus of investigation; every Conus species expresses a distinct repertoire of about 100 different venom peptides, suggesting that there are greater than 50,000 different peptides in these venoms. The Conus peptides developed by our laboratory have become widely used tools for basic research in neuroscience, and they unexpectedly proved to have direct diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Of the first 30 Conus peptides characterized, mostly by undergraduate students in our laboratory, 10 percent have reached human clinical trials, and one has become an FDA-approved drug for intractable pain.