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Jun 05, 2014 06:09 AM EDT

Researchers Develop “Bee-Friendly” Pesticide from Spider Venom and Plant Protein

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Newcastle researchers have created a new bio-pesticide that destroys insect pests, at the same time, causes no harm to honeybees.

The hive-friendly crop spray is made by fusing the venom from the Australian funnel web spider (the world's deadliest spider) with a protein called lectin from the snowdrop plant.

Honeybees are pollinators of key crop species.  Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to the decline of bee populations and loss of several plants, raising concerns about feeding a growing population. And chemicals in insecticides damage honeybees' learning and memory abilities.

This is the reason why Newcastle researchers set out to develop a chemical that would target only insects.

To test the pesticide, biologists exposed acute and chronic doses (more than they are exposed in the wild) of the insect-specific Hv1a/GNA fusion protein bio-pesticide to bees in a lab for a week. They found that it had negligible effects on survival rates and no detrimental effect on their learning and memory behavior (key to their success in food hunting).

The bee friendly pesticide can, therefore, be used as an alternative to those suspected of causing Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

"Previous studies have already shown it is safe for higher animals which means it has real potential as a pesticide and offers us a safe alternative to some of those currently on the market," Professor Angharad Gatehouse of the university said in a statement.

Although the pesticide has been tested only against bees, researchers claim that the spray poses no danger to humans as well if inhaled.

Researchers said that the Hv1a/GNA targets the calcium channels, while other pesticides often target the sodium ion channels.

"This is an oral pesticide so unlike some that get absorbed through the exoskeleton, the spider/snowdrop recombinant protein has to be ingested by the insects."

"Although Hv1a/GNA was carried to the brain of the honeybee, it had no effect on the insect which suggests the highly selective spider-venom toxin does not interact with the calcium channels in the bee," said Erich Nakasu, a PhD student at Newcastle University. 

The finding is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal B.

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