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."

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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

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User comments : 5

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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

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!
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.
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.
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.