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Is spider venom the ultimate natural pesticide?

Natural pesticide

(NaturalNews) Pesticides have always played a crucial role in agriculture. However, many of today's products not only kill the insects that threaten plants, but are also lethal to many beneficial insects like honeybees.

According to a recent report, 44.1 percent of all bee colonies in the U.S. died off last year. In only a few years, we have lost 30 to 90 percent of all hives around the world. One of the biggest culprits is thought to be the use of chemical pesticides that contain neonicotinoids.

Since honeybees pollinate about 80 percent of our crops, their survival is crucial to continue feeding the growing population. A new insecticide developed in Michigan, U.S., could hold the answer, and it all starts with the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider, one of deadliest spiders in the world.

Venom as a key ingredient

After eleven years of research, Vestaron Corp, a spinoff of the University of Connecticut, has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start selling its first venom-based pesticides, which do not pose a threat to people, pets, water sources or livestock.

The discovery of the new line of pesticides came out of a broad spider venom screening program that was investigating a variety of applications, including vaccines and anti-venom production.

"The idea came up one day that these things might have good insecticidal activity," Josh Sorenson, the director and CEO of Vestaron, told Michigan Radio. "After all, spiders through the millennia have become pretty good at killing insects."

Spider venom is a complex cocktail consisting of a thousand different peptides. To make their new line of pesticides, Vestaron isolated the peptides that don't have any toxic effect on mammalians.

But have no fear. If you live near Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the pesticides are produced, you won't find a single deadly funnel-web spider on their site. They created a fermentation process that allows them to make a synthetic version.

"We selected those that don't have any mammalian effects, and we isolated those components, synthesised the genes for them, put them into yeast, and by fermentation, that produces our product for us," Sorenson explained. "So it's a slick way to have to get around having to milk spiders."

As efficient as their chemical counterparts

Biological insecticides have been shown to be the safer option, but they are not as effective as the synthetic products. According to Sorenson, the synthetic stuff is nearly 100 percent effective, while biological insecticides tend to fall more in the range of 80 percent.

Speaking to Michigan Radio, Dr. Sorenson stressed his confidence that their venom-based SPEAR (Species At Risk) products, which can be used by farmers and gardeners alike, will be as effective as the synthetic insecticides, without posing any threat to the environment or people.

"It's exactly the same as the nasty old organic chemicals that have been used for years: 95-100% control," Sorenson said.

"We have a platform for developing these things from spider venoms, from other venoms – scorpions, sea anemones and all kinds of things – which should ... revitalize, really, the process of discovering new insecticides. So we're really excited about that, too. It's not just one product, it's a pathway to find multiple products," Sorenson added.

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