Australia’s bees pollinate most of the country’s flora and fauna and the rapid decline has scientists concerned.

But one University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) research professor has a surprising solution that comes in the form of spider venom.

Associate Professor Volker Herzig from USC’s Genecology Research Centre is the owner of the world’s largest collection of spider and scorpion venom with about 700 different varieties and is using them to develop a new environmentally friendly bioinsecticide.

Spider venom is made up of a complex cocktail of chemicals unique to each species which enables spiders to eat a wide variety of prey, including other insects, lizards, frogs and rodents.

Using cutting-edge technology in the lab, Professor Herzig can separate the various components of the venom and isolate those that are toxic to specific types of insects.

When produced in large quantities in the lab and then sprayed onto vegetables and other crops, the isolated toxins will kill pest insects like moths, thrips, and aphids, but won’t harm important pollinators like bees and butterflies.

A young female Atrax robustus with venom droplets on its fangs. Picture: Dr David Wilson, James Cook University.
A young female Atrax robustus with venom droplets on its fangs. Picture: Dr David Wilson, James Cook University.

They also have no effect on human health.

An advantage to using this type of technology is that spider venom is biodegradable and will break down within a few days of exposure to sunlight.

This means there will be no harmful build-up of toxins or long-term effects.

This ground-breaking research is the future of agricultural pest control, providing an environmentally friendly and healthy alternative to traditional chemical insecticides.

The technology has been successfully proven by Professor Herzig’s colleagues at a start-up in the United States, using a component of Australian Funnel Web spider venom.

With so many different species of spiders, there are seemingly endless possibilities for the development of new bioinsecticides.

Rebecca Roberts, PhD is a molecular biologist and science writer/communicator at the University of the Sunshine Coast.


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