each one is lined with copper minerals, and connected to a venom gland. the venom can stop the heart of the small crustaceans that these creatures eat, but it’s not strong enough to harm a human. now, björn von reumont and lahcen campbell from the natural history museum in london have catalogued the full array of venom-making genes that are active in the bloodworm’s venom gland. these substances, and the creatures that inject them, instil a morbid fascination. the word “bloodworm” is also used to describe the maggots of some groups of midges, a couple of species of parasitic nematodes, and the fictional ones that cause vampirism in the strain. the bloodworms that jenner’s team looked at are annelids, members of a large group of segmented worms that also includes earthworms and lugworms. the team identified all the rna transcripts that are produced in the venom glands of three bloodworm species.
the team also compared the bloodworm transcripts to those form other animal groups, and found some that are shared across many venomous lineages. and until now, one toxin was thought to be unique to sea anemones, while another was supposedly an invention of predatory snails. these similarities between bloodworm venom and those of very distantly related animals exemplify the single most important theme in venom evolution: convergence. venom proteins have to work in the bodies and bloodstreams of other animals, so they have to be very stable. maybe some groups of proteins are “poised to be weaponised”. snakes and bees have evolved the ability to block platelets from clumping together, a crucial step in blood clotting. 2014. a polychaete’s powerful punch: venom gland transcriptomics of glycera reveals a complex cocktail of toxin homologs.
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