Could Spider Venom Be Used As A Novel Insecticide For Major Crop Pests?

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr
Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill insect pests that consume the venom orally. The protein known as orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1) was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with a similar efficacy to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid. In particular, the protein was found to be highly toxic to the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa zea.

Many spider species have evolved insecticidal toxins in their venom, which they inject into the prey through their fangs. Consequently it has often been presumed that the venom would not be toxic when ingested orally by insects pests, and therefore would not be suitable for use as an insecticide. Conversely, the scientists in this study discovered it is possible to isolate spider venom peptides with high levels of oral insecticidal activity. The team used the venom from Selenotypus plumipes which is a large tarantula native to Australia which despite its large size is not harmful to humans.

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European Union Vote To Restrict Neonicotinoid Insecticide Use

Do you think the EU is right to ban neonicotinoids? Photo of a honeybee via Flickr (Brad Smith, CC-BY-NC-2.0)
Do you think the EU is right to ban neonicotinoids? Photo of a honeybee via Flickr (Brad Smith, CC-BY-NC-2.0)

After a European Commission vote yesterday (Monday 29th April 2013), Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on neonicotinoid insecticides after concerns about their non-target impact on bee pollinators.

The vote by the 27 European Union member states on whether to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides was supported by 15 nations. The UK did not support the ban.

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A Sting In The Tale- EFSA Assesses The Risks of Neonicotinoids To Bees

Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bees represent a proportion of the insects that contribute to the pollination of crops, and the potential impact of observed declines in bees on crop yields, as well as their importance as pollinators of wild flowers, has resulted in significant attention and controversy in determining the causes of bee declines. No single factor has been found to explain the decline in pollinators, and it is thought to be due to a range of interacting effects such as climate change, bee pests and diseases, pesticide use, and habitat loss. More recently, some studies have implicated neonicotinoid insecticides in the pollinator decline, although to date evidence from different studies is conflicting and the topic remains highly debated.

In April 2012 the European Commission demanded a re-examination of the risks posed by the neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and clothianidin, primarily produced by Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. A report published on Wednesday by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risks posed to honeybees by these three neonicotinoids.

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