Spider Venom May Save the Bees: New Bio-Pesticide Could Preserve Honeybee Populations

First Posted: Jun 04, 2014 07:51 AM EDT

Could spiders save the bees? They just might. Scientists have created a novel bio-pesticide with the help of spider venom and a plant protein. The new pesticide is actually safe for honeybees, despite being highly toxic to a number of key insect pests.

Honeybees perform sophisticated behaviors while foraging. These behaviors, in part, are why they're so successful. With their ability to pollinate key crop species, these insects are crucial for our food industry. And yet bee populations have been declining due to climate change and an increased use of pesticides, which can interrupt their key behaviors.

This new bio-pesticide, though, could help matters. The Hv1a/GNA fusion protein bio-pesticide is a combination of a natural toxin from the Australian funnel web spider and snowdrop lectin. In fact, scientists found that even acute and chronic doses only affected honeybees slightly; these doses were far beyond those that the bees would experience in the field.

"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," said Erich Nakasu, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Unlike other pesticides, Hv1a/GNA affects an underexplored insecticidal target, calcium channels. These are more diverse than commonly-targeted insecticide receptors, such as sodium channels, and therefore offer the potential for more species-specific pesticides."

In fact, the researchers found that although this new pesticide was carried to the brain of the honeybee, it had no effect on the insect. This suggests that the spider-venom toxin doesn't interact with the calcium channels in the bee, which are associated with learning and memory.

"Our findings suggest that Hv1a/GNA is unlikely to cause any detrimental effects on honeybees," said Angharad Gatehouse, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Previous studies have already shown that 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."

The findings could be huge for honeybees. As important pollinators, honeybees should be protected in order to help our future food security.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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