Friday Evening Lecture – Forbes Lecture – “Using Deadly Cone Snails to Understand Nervous Systems”

Date(s) - 07/20/2012
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture – Forbes Lecture – “Using Deadly Cone Snails to Understand Nervous Systems”
Baldomero M. Olivera, University of Utah; Howard Hughes Medical Institute
July 20, 2012, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium

Introduction by Dr. Shelley Adamo

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baldomero oliveraLecture Abstract:
The 700 species of predatory cone snails (Conus) use venom to capture prey, defend against predators, and deter competitors. One fish-hunting Conus species is the deadliest snail known, with a 70% human fatality rate without medical intervention. Each Conus venom contains ~100 peptide toxins; most of these act on a specific molecular target in the nervous system. The genes encoding the peptide toxins are among the most rapidly evolving animal genes known; in effect, every cone snail has its own distinct complement of venom peptides, with essentially no molecular overlap between species. One Conus venom peptide has become an approved drug for intractable pain, and several others have reached human clinical trials.

Cone snails evolved a pharmacological strategy millions of years ago that greatly pre-dates parallel recent developments in pharmacological science, such as using a combination drug strategy. While cone snails represent only a very minor fraction of the total biodiversity of venomous marine mollusks, future prospects are bright for systematically characterizing the vast number of novel peptides from other venomous molluscan lineages that will have potential biomedical applications.

Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera is a Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah where he has been on the faculty since 1970.  He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. By studying the complex neurotoxic venom made by cone snails, Conus, Dr. Olivera and members of his lab have identified several drug candidates and gained a better understanding of how ion channels work. A synthetic form of a cone snail toxin discovered in Dr. Olivera’s lab is now used to treat pain effectively in patients who have become tolerant to morphine. Dr. Olivera’s Chemistry to Biodiversity project engages elementary school students in hands-on experimental science that encourages them to explore local biodiversity and cultural traditions. He is currently adapting the module to be used in diverse educational settings in the United States and the Philippines, his native country. Dr. Olivera earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of the Philippines, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology with Dr. Norman Davidson, and did postdoctoral work at Stanford University with Dr. I. Robert Lehman. He returned to the Philippines to a faculty position in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of the Philippines, Medical School before moving to the University of Utah. Dr. Olivera is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Philosophical Society, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology, the California Institute of Technology Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Harvard University Foundation Scientist of the Year.

Dr. Shelley Adamo will introduce Dr. Olivera. Dr. Adamo is a Killam Professor at Dalhousie University and a leading expert in comparative psychoneuroimmunology and parasitic manipulation of behavior. She received her B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Toronto and her Ph.D. in Biology from McGill University.  After postdoctoral fellowships at Cornell University and the University of California, Riverside, she started a faculty position at Dalhousie University in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Dr. Adamo is an editor for Animal Behavior, a trustee of the Grass Foundation, and sits on granting committee panels for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Science Foundation.

About the Forbes Lectures:
Since 1959, the special two-part Forbes Lecture has been supported by The Grass Foundation, a private foundation that supports research and education in neuroscience. The lectures are given in honor of pioneering neurobiologist Alexander Forbes. Traditionally, the Forbes lecturer also spends several weeks at the MBL, working alongside the Grass Fellowship Program.

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