Scorpion venom harnessed for green pesticides
Neurotoxins harm some agricultural pests while leaving beneficial insects alone.
Wed, Jan 20 2010 at 11:45 AM
In the quest to find a safer, more environmentally friendly agriculture pesticide, researchers have discovered a powerful candidate in scorpion venom, according to an article in Science Daily.
The Israeli yellow scorpion in particular, known to be among the world's most poisonous scorpions, contains neurotoxins that are highly effective against pests like locusts, but harmless against beneficial insects like honeybees.
"Two decades ago I realized that scorpion venom is a goldmine for possible insecticidal and therapeutic agents," said Professor Michael Gurevitz, considered one of the world's pioneers in this field. "This raised the question of how to use them as ecologically safe agents against insects in a farmer's fields, or in medicinal disorders."
In order for the venom to be effective as a pesticide, Gurevitz has been studying ways to modify the scorpion venom to penetrate the blood stream of an infesting insect. Obviously, scorpions have the advantage of simply stabbing their prey. However, with a bit of genetic modification, he believes it's possible to create such a weapon.
"Why not harness potent natural compounds that venomous animals developed during millions of years of evolution?" asks Gurevitz. "I am developing the science so we can learn how to use them, and to learn how to produce agents to mimic their effect yet maintain specificity to certain kinds of insects."
While the agriculture industry currently uses neurotoxins in its pesticides, the poison isn't as specific a killer as scorpion venom — and comes with unwanted environmental and health risks. Gurevitz hopes his more than 35 years of study in this field will produce a breakthrough that includes all the good of insect management with none of the unwanted side effects.
via Science Daily