Associate Professor of Marine Biology
BSc magna cum laude University of Guam
MSc University of Guam
PhD University of Utah
Estimated to comprise over 10,000 living species, the predatory prosobranch gastropods within the taxonomic superfamily Conoidea are arguably the largest single group of venomous animals presently known. What is surprising is that these slow-moving soft-bodied animals can be abundantly found on tropical coral reefs, which can be summed up by the universal motto “eat or be eaten.”
The genus Conus (suborder: Toxoglossa), commonly referred to as the cone snails, are the most famous of all venomous molluscs, as they have received a great amount of attention from pharmacologists for their ability to produce a functionally diverse group of small disulfide-rich peptides that act predominantly by wreaking havoc on the nervous systems of their prey and an even greater amount of attention from shell collectors for their incredibly ornate shells. Ecologically speaking, cone snails can be categorized into three groups, depending on their target prey: (i) the vermivorous cone snails are worm hunters that feed on polychaetes, hemichordates and echiuroid worms; (ii) the molluscivores are snail hunters that prey upon other gastropods; and (iii) the piscivorous cone snails are remarkable fish hunters who have venoms capable of rapidly paralyzing fish.
The innate beauty of this classification system is that it takes evolution into account while providing a classification system that potentially reflects upon the active components present in the venom, simply because venom components are heavily selected for by the necessity to rapidly subdue prey. What may work on snails, won’t necessarily work on fish; and examples of this can be found in the prey-specific activity associated with crude venoms isolated from Conus species with different prey.
My research interests include: (i) cataloging the feeding behavior of these incredible animals, understanding the biochemical mechanism by which the components of their venoms act; (ii) the biological diversity of neogastropod symbionts; (iii) the phylogenetic diversity that has resulted from the evolution of venom as a predatory strategy; and (iv) the application of venom components as pharmaceutical therapies to treat a variety of illnesses including cancer. These research interests are a great way to integrate both classical taxonomic and ecological approaches with modern scientific techniques (e.g., genetics, pharmacology, and marine natural products chemistry) in an effort to increase the awareness of molluscan species diversity in marine environments and their potential for enhancing the quality of life on Earth.
J. S. Biggs, M. Watkins, N. Puillandre, J.P. Ownby, E. Lopez-Vera, S. Christensen, K. J. Moreno, A. L. Navarro, P. C. Showers, and Baldomero M. Olivera. Evolution of Conus Peptide Toxins: Analysis of Conus californicus Reeve, 1844. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. In press.
J. S. Biggs, M. Watkins, P. C. Showers, and B. M. Olivera. (2010) Defining a Clade by Morphological, Molecular and Toxinological Criteria: Distinctive Forms related to Conus praecellens A. Adams, 1854. Nautilus. 124(1), 1-19.
Peraud O., Biggs J.S., Hughen R.W., Light A.R., Concepcion G.P., Olivera B.M., and E.W. Schmidt (2009) Microhabitats within venomous cone snails yield diverse actinobacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 75(21), 6820–6826.
J.S. Biggs, Olivera B.M., and Y.I. Kantor (2008) Alpha-conopeptides specifically expressed in the salivary gland of Conus pulicarius. Toxicon. Jul;52(1):101-5.
J.S. Biggs, Rosenfeld, Y., Shai, Y., and B. M. Olivera. (2007) Conolysin-Mt: A Conus Peptide that Disrupts Cellular Membranes. Biochemistry, 46(44), 12586-12593.
J.S. Biggs, Jie Wan, N. Shane Cutler, Jukka Hakkola, Päivi Uusimäki, Hannu Raunio, and Garold S. Yost. (2007) Transcription Factor Binding to a Double E-Box Motif Represses CYP3A4 Expression in Human Lung Cells. Molecular Pharmacology, 72, 514-525.
Biggs, J.S. (2005) Lung-Selective Regulation of the Human CYP3A Genes. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.
Matsumoto S.S., Biggs J.S., Copp, B.R., Holden, J.A. and L.R. Barrows . (2003) Mechanism of ascididemin-induced cytotoxicity. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 16, 113-122.
Puglisi, M.P., Paul, V.J., Biggs, J.S., and M. Slattery (2002) Co-occurrence of chemical and structural defenses in the gorgonian corals of Guam. Marine Ecology Progress Series 239:105-114.
J.S. Biggs (2000) The Role of Secondary Metabolite Complexity in the Red Alga Laurencia palisada as a Defense Against Diverse Consumers. Thesis. University of Guam Marine Laboratory. Mangilao, Guam 96923.
Harrigan, G., Luesch, H., Yoshida, W.Y., Moore, R.E., Nagle, D.G., Biggs, J.S., Park, P.U., and V.J. Paul. (1999) Tumonoic Acids, Novel Metabolites from a Cyanobacterial Assemblage of Lyngbya majuscula and Schizothrix calcicola. Journal of Natural Products. Vol. 62. Pp. 464-467.
Harrigan, G., Yoshida, W.Y., Moore, R.E., Nagle, D.G., Park, P.U., Biggs, J.S., Paul, V.J., Mooberry, S.L., Corbett, T.H., and F.A. Valeriote (1998) Isolation, Structure Determination, and Biological Activity of Dolastatin 12 and Lyngbyastatin 1 From Lyngbya majuscula/Schizothrix calcicola Cyanobacterial Assemblages. Journal of Natural Products. Vol.61. Pp. 1221-1225.
Hobbies: gardening, hiking, outrigger canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding