Mutualism of the Month: Tetrodotoxin-producing bacteria and their many hosts

Mutualism of the Month: Tetrodotoxin-producing bacteria and their many hosts

This month’s mutualism is between tetrodotoxin-producing bacteria and their many hosts.

Until recently, the origin of the tetrodotoxin (TTX) in pufferfish was unknown. TTX was first isolated by chemists from the ovaries of pufferfish in 1950. It was thought to be a toxin found exclusively within pufferfish (hence its naming after the pufferfish family Tetraodontidae), until it was found in the California newt Taricha torosa. After its discovery in newts, TTX was rapidly isolated from a diversity of animal species completely unrelated to each other, including several frogs, an octopus, several marine snails, a crab, and a starfish. This raised an interesting question: did all these animals evolve the ability to produce tetrodotoxin separately or is there some common factor?

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