Tarantula venom is main ingredient in insecticide for crop eating insects

A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can kill insects that consume the venom orally. The toxic brew may also serve as an insecticide against agricultural pests that consume the venom orally, a new study finds. A component of the spider venom is especially effective against the cotton bollworm, a pest that attacks crop plants.

Across the globe, insect agricultural pests can reduce crop yields by 10 to 14 percent and have the potential to damage 9 to 20 percent of stored food crops. Chemical insecticides are primarily used by farmers to control pests, however many insects are resistant to them. However, over the last decade, researchers have been experimenting with "bioinsecticides," proteins derived from natural sources such as spider venom.

In the study, researchers milked venom from Australian tarantulas, and isolated a small peptide — a molecular building block of cells — from the deadly substance. This peptide was fed to termites and cotton bollworms, and compared the effects with those of mealworms injected with the peptide. When the peptide was ingested by insects, the poisonous chemical, called orally active insecticidal peptide-1, was as toxic as the synthetic insecticide imidacloprid, the group reported Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. A combination of the venom peptide and synthetic insecticide was even more effective. The venom was more potent against cotton bollworms than against termites and mealworms, which eat stored grains rather than crops, results showed.

Venoms extracted from other insect-eating animals, such as centipedes and scorpions, may also contain peptides that could be used as bioinsecticides. Scientists could also genetically engineer insect-resistant plants or microbes that produce these toxins. "The breakthrough discovery that spider toxins can have oral activity has implications not only for their use as bioinsecticides, but also for spider-venom peptides that are being considered for therapeutic use," study researcher Glenn King of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, Australia, said in a statement.

This article was originally published in LiveScience

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