Scorpions are notorious for harnessing a powerful, debilitating venom in their tails. Some species harbor venom potent enough to kill a human being. But other parts of that venom cocktail are only intended for other insects--and only affect other insects. If the strains of venom that do so were to be isolated, that could be a pretty potent insecticide, right? One researcher thought so--so he concocted a brand new, ecologically safe pesticide from the deadly venom found in scorpions.Deadly Venom, Eco-Safe Pesticide?
While 'ecologically safe pesticide made from scorpion venom' is a phrase that appears to be chock full of contradiction, it could actually mark an important advance for agriculture and human health. This is why: as of now, the ag industry uses pyrethroids almost exclusively, which work by penetrating insect bodies, attacking their nervous systems, and finally causing paralysis and death. Problem is, these compounds "lack specificity," according to Science Daily, and the compounds pose a danger "to the environment, livestock and humans."
Current pesticides, as you likely are aware, are often toxic, can cause cancer, and can devastate ecosystems. Which is why one scientist has dedicated 20 years of his work to crafting pesticides from scorpion venom--and he's just had a breakthrough.
Neurotoxins in Scorpion Venom--Secret Ingredient for Safe Pesticides?
SD reports that "Prof. Michael Gurevitz of Tel Aviv University ... has isolated the genetic sequences for important neurotoxins in the scorpion venom. He's also developed methods to produce and manipulate toxins to restrict their toxicity in certain insects or mammals." But why scorpions? Gurevitz explains:
"Two decades ago I realized that scorpion venom is a goldmine for possible insecticidal and therapeutic agents. This raised the question of how to use them as ecologically-safe agents against insects in a farmer's fields, or in medicinal disorders."
Gurevitz set about developing genetic methods for creating and manipulating scorpion toxins in bacteria, which eventually led the researcher to hone in on what could be the most important pesticide development in generations. And here's why: not only can the pesticide be engineered to only harm insects, but amazingly, it's predisposed to only harm certain kinds of insects:
some neurotoxins in the scorpion are highly active against some insects -- leaf-eating moths, locusts, flies and beetles -- but have no effect on beneficial insects like honeybees or on mammals like humans. He continues to pursue an effective mode of delivery for what could be a new insecticide.In other words, thanks to scorpion venom, we may be looking at an effective, ecologically safe pesticide that can single out and target pests. It could, in effect, minimize the threat that dangerous pesticides pose to habitats around the world.