Spider venom could be the pesticide of the future

The vast majority of venomous spiders won’t hurt you, but you definitely want to avoid members of the Australian funnel-spider family at all costs. They carry a cocktail of poisons that paralyze their prey by disrupting their nervous systems; some are so potent they can kill full-grown humans.

Scientists have noticed the powerful punch some spider venoms pack, and have started looking to them for inspiration for all kinds of applications. Glenn King, a molecular biologist now at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, thinks they could change the agricultural industry. In 2005, he founded a biotech company called Vestaron, now based in Michigan, to use spider venom as the basis for better pesticides.

Vestaron focuses on developing natural insecticides from spider venom, either by recreating them in a lab or making them through genetically modified yeast. It’s also working on genetically modifying crops so that the plants produce their own insect-killing chemicals. Vestron has received approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency to roll two of their Australian funnel spider venom-based products out in the beginning of 2018, to farmers growing ornamental flowers and vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumbers, in greenhouses.

Spear-T and Spear-O—the two compounds that will be available for sale in the US starting in January—kill off four common greenhouse pests: whiteflies, thrips, aphids, and spider mites. Spear-C, which Vestaron expects to come out later in 2018, will work against certain types of caterpillars.

Read more at Quartz (Katherine Ellen Foley)

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