By Kirsty Topping
SCOTS scientists want to use Tarantula venom as a natural pesticide to spray on crops.
Researchers are investigating the make-up of the spider’s lethal poison in a bid to create a version safe enough to kill pests while leaving humans unharmed.
The researchers, including a team from Edinburgh University, have put the feared tropical creatures inside an MRI scanner to try to unlock its deadly secrets.
Gavin Merrifield, a PhD student at the university, said:
“Venom has applications in agriculture as a potential natural pesticide.
“Spiders are natural killers of insects. Their venom paralysis their victims and it could possibly be used at a pesticide without doing any damage to the environment. “
Gavin, who works in the Department of Medical Physics said the use of the MRI scanner could prove crucial in determining the precise composition of the venom when it is inside the Tarantula’s body.
The powerful and expensive machines are normally used to produce detailed cross sections of the inside of human patients.
“The MRI scans show what the venom is like when it is actually inside the spider.
“Previously people have extracted the venom and analysed its chemical composition but it could be that once outside the spider the venom starts to decay and loses its potency. “
In recent years there has been growing concern over the use of artificial pesticides in agriculture.
Campaigners have pointed out both environmental and health concerns linked to their use.
Several pesticides can remain in the environment for years without breaking down and can find their way into water and food supplies.
The use of pesticides have been linked to a number of long-term health problems, such as cancer and fertility problems.
The UK has banned almost 30 different pesticides, amongst them DDT which was banned in the UK in 1984 and worldwide in 2004.
If scientists can analyse how Tarantula venom works and produce large quantities of a
“safe’ version, the benefits to agriculture would be enormous.
The National Union of Farmer’s Scotland said today (Fri) its members could well take up a pesticide made from the venom.
A spokesman said:
“I think farmers in Scotland are very open-minded.
“What we have in Scotland is to have been blessed with a world-recognised science base and farmers have shown they can adapt to new developments. “
The researchers have not restricted their studies to the Tarantula’s poison.
They also hope the scanning techniques will allow them to better understand how spiders’ brains work, and possibly provide the key to the origins of intelligence.
“Further scans will help us gain new evolutionary information and identify not only the similarities that we share with spiders, but also how and when they acquired them independent of ourselves. “
He added: “If we can link MRI brain scans with aspider’s behaviorand combine this with similar data from vertebrates, we may clarify how intelligence evolved.”
The research has revealed a number of surprises, including how the animal’s heart works.
“In the videos, you can see the blood flowing through the heart, and tantalizingly, it looks as though there might be ‘double beating’ occurring, a distinct type of contraction which has never been considered before,” said Gavin.