The Western Ghats or Sahyadri is a mountain range parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and a hotspot of biological diversity in the world.
One of the oldest mountains in the world, in fact, older than the Himalayas itself, the Western Ghats also influence the Indian monsoons by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the southwest during late summer.
The area experiences heavy precipitation, even earning the title of “cherrapunjee of the west”, this biodiversity hotspot boasts a wide range of flora and fauna.
It should come as no surprise that scientists from the Institute of Natural History Education and Research, Pune have discovered seven new species of scorpions from the Western Ghats.
The new species
-Two of the new species, Isometrix tamhini, and Isometrus amboli, are bark scorpions found in the dense semi-evergreen forests of Tamhini and Amboli.
They can be used as indicators of the health of the forest since they can only survive in pure evergreen forests or pure deciduous forests thus providing an indirect method of evaluating the true potential of these forests.
–Isometrus kovariki, the third new species discovered is also a bark scorpion. It, however, differs from the rest of the new species discovered due to its genetic composition.
They belong to different species and interbreeding between other species is not possible due to a genetic distance of 10-16%. However, all three species look similar under the naked eye.
-The remaining four species discovered are called “lithophilic scorpions”. These are point endemic species- meaning they stay in the same habitat like a single population- due to which they are highly vulnerable and are prone to extinction.
Experts describe this ecosystem as “an island ecosystem” because rock scorpions are confined to their rocks with little or no contact with the scorpions on other rocks.
This leads to a natural selection of characteristics that make them more suitable for the particular type of rock they inhabit. These mutations eventually accumulate to lead to the formation of new species.
Scorpion venom for brain cancer
Scorpions are an essential part of the food webs and food chains. They mostly serve as prey for nocturnal birds and act as predators for many small insects.
Recently, there has been research on the use of scorpion venom for the management of terminal diseases like brain cancer. A particular component in the venom can be used to paint tumor tissue.
This can help the surgeon differentiate between normal tissue and cancer.
Scorpion venom contains neurotoxins. This is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and cause damage to the brain.
Take out the poisonous components and we can have a vehicle that crosses the blood-brain barrier without damaging it.
T-601 is an artificial chemical first found in a scorpion sting that can particularly seek out brain tissue cells and bind to them.
It would have cost drug companies millions of dollars to develop a chemical of this caliber but scorpions have already developed it after millions of years of evolution.
In 2006, Dr. Adam Mamelak, a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, used this chemical to carry small amounts of radioactive material that can latch on to the residual brain tumor cells that were left behind after surgery and to selectively destroy them. Initial trials showed some success.
However, scorpions are very vulnerable. Their poaching also goes underreported and they can be easily carried across customs because x-ray machines fail to detect these bone-less creatures on the passengers.
We need to implement stricter laws for their conservation. After all, these tiny organisms can bring hope to many incurable patients of a fatal disease in the future.
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