Australian tarantula venom contains novel insecticide against agricultural pests

Sep 11, 2013
A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can kill prey insects that consume the venom orally. Credit: Margaret C. Hardy

Spider venoms are usually toxic when injected into prey, but a new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill prey insects that consume the venom orally. The protein is strongly insecticidal to the cotton bollworm, an important agricultural pest, according to research published September 11 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Glenn King and Maggie Hardy from the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues from other institutions.

The small protein, named orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1), was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with potency similar to that of the synthetic insecticide imidacloprid. Cotton bollworm, a pest that attacks crop plants, was more sensitive to OAIP-1 than termites and mealworms, which attack stored grains.

Author Margaret C. Hardy milks an Australian tarantula. Credit: Margaret C. Hardy

These and other reduce global crop yields by 10-14% annually and damage 9-20% of stored , and several species are resistant to available insecticides. Isolated peptides from the venom of spiders or other venomous insectivorous animals, such as centipedes and scorpions, may have the potential to serve as bioinsecticides. Alternately, the authors suggest the genes encoding these peptides could be used to engineer insect-resistant plants or enhance the efficacy of microbes that attack insect pests. King elaborates, "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."

Explore further: Like eating fish? It's time to start caring where it comes from

More information: Hardy MC, Daly NL, Mobli M, Morales RAV, King GF (2013) Isolation of an Orally Active Insecticidal Toxin from the Venom of an Australian Tarantula. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73136. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073136

Related Stories

Scorpion venom -- bad for bugs, good for pesticides

Apr 27, 2011

Fables have long cast scorpions as bad-natured killers of hapless turtles that naively agree to ferry them across rivers. Michigan State University scientists, however, see them in a different light.

Advance promises to expand biological control of crop pests

Feb 13, 2013

A new discovery promises to allow expanded use of a mainstay biological pest control method, which avoids the health, environmental and pest-resistance concerns of traditional insecticides, scientists are reporting. The advance ...

New bacteria toxins against resistant insect pests

Oct 19, 2011

Toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria (Bt toxins) are used in organic and conventional farming to manage pest insects. Sprayed as pesticides or produced in genetically modified plants, Bt toxins, us ...

Recommended for you

Nestling birds struggle in noisy environments

23 hours ago

Unable to fly, nestling birds depend on their parents for both food and protection: vocal communication between parents and offspring helps young birds to determine when they should beg for food and when they should crouch ...

The secret life of the sea trout

Oct 29, 2014

Jan G. Davidsen and his graduate students are spies. They use listening stations and special tags they attach to their subjects to track their movements. They follow their subjects winter and summer, day ...

Giant tortoises gain a foothold on a Galapagos Island

Oct 28, 2014

A population of endangered giant tortoises, which once dwindled to just over a dozen, has recovered on the Galapagos island of EspaƱola, a finding described as "a true story of success and hope in conservation" ...

Fish "personality" linked to vulnerability to angling

Oct 28, 2014

Individual differences in moving activity in a novel environment are linked to individual differences in vulnerability to angling, according to an experimental study completed at the University of Eastern Finland and the ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Humpty
1 / 5 (7) Sep 11, 2013
This is more corporate insanity.

Store the grain under nitrogen.

Problem solved.
Lorentz Descartes
1 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2013
Humpty,

at the end the articles says: "Alternately, the authors suggest the genes encoding these peptides could be used to engineer insect-resistant plants .."

So they are looking for more insecticidal proteins like BT. Bio prospecting such as this should get more funding!
rossmcn
1 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2013
I may be mistaken, but since when have we had tarantulas in Australia?? Huntsman, wolfies, Trapdoor, Redbacks, Golden Orbs and the odd snake eating critter, but never heard of a tarantula, which I believe is a native of Central or South America.
OckhamsRazor
3 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2013
rossmcn - We've always had native tarantulas here, and I even had two as pets (you can buy them at pet stores). They're also known as the Whistling or Barking spider due to the sound they make, and it sounds a bit like a mouse squeaking. Unlike a lot of the other tarantulas people keep as pets around the world, you can't hold these ones - they're aggressive. They ended up being about the size of my hand (my hands are not large, though) before they died.

They're beautiful creatures, though, and have a fairly long life span (some say 12 years). After they shed, they go from dark brown to black with a slight pattern near the legs for a while. There are tarantulas all around the globe, not just in the Americas.
Urgelt
1 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2013
One hopes that deep studies of the effects of this toxin on mammals will precede any attempt to encode toxin production into agricultural crop plants.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.