Synthetic spider venom could add bite to crop protection

SPIDER venom could hold the key to protecting Australia’s grain crops from insect pests in the future.

Researchers at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience are looking at whether it is possible to mimic the insecticidal peptides found in spider venom compounds for use in controlling insects that threaten crops.

If these peptides can be replicated, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) will pursue production of a biodegradable pesticide based on synthetic toxins.

GRDC Manager for Commercial Farm Technologies, Paul Meibusch, says spiders are the “quintessential insect predator” so it makes sense to explore the reasons why their venom remains so effectively potent.

“It’s about looking at what nature has developed and perfected over many millions of years, and determining whether we can use that to develop a new class of insecticide to protect our important grain crops,” Mr Meibusch said.

“We know that products from spiders have a wide range of insect-killing abilities that prevent insects becoming resistant to spider bites, so researchers are investigating whether we can mimic those peptide compounds to specifically target insect pests.”

Speaking at recent GRDC grains research Updates in the southern cropping region, Mr Meibusch said a four-year project at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, supported by the GRDC, was focusing on the toxic short-chain peptides within spider venom for potential artificial reproduction.

He said the Institute had created the world’s largest “venom library” which catalogues the venom components of almost 300 spider and scorpion species.

“Researchers are isolating peptides from these venoms and running them through a screening mechanism to assess their potential for replication and use in the grains industry.

“The project is still in its infancy but we are hopeful that the outcomes will be of enormous long-term benefit to the cropping industry in Australia and around the world,” Mr Meibusch said.


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