Scorpion Venom to the Rescue? Morphine? Pesticide?
Michael Gurevitz has been featured in a number of recent news reports for his research into practical and useful uses of scorpion venom. His research has found varying types of venom and varying effects based upon the chemical proprieties of the venom. Documenting and researching these properties has further proven that some toxins can target specific mammalian channels, and others will attack insect channels that are non existent in mammals, i.e. humans. But Michael hopes to take this information to a whole new level by identifying how these toxin interact with sodium channels, which make up mammal and insect nervous systems. That information could lead to a pesticide based on scorpion venom and a morphine like medicine based on scorpion venom. But what are benefits of using scorpion venom and are there possible cons?
On the subject of venom toxins Raymond St. Leger, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, states that they are “a resource with almost limitless potential,…But you need a way of getting them into the insect.” Herein lies one problem. Genetically altering a plant to produce a similar compound to the scorpion venom will be useless as a pest control technique if ingesting the plant and its newly acquired compound does nothing to the pest because it is ingested rather than stung/injected into the blood stream. Exterminators that will hunt and manually inject the compound are going to hard to find. Clearly this is not the intent. The objective is to develop a pesticide that will be absorbed through an insect’s exoskeleton. The pest control products need to penetrate into the insects and attack their nervous systems, leading to paralysis and death. Determining the venom’s effective life span and how long it will take to be absorbed will determine the success of this natural alternative. In order for a pesticide to be effective it must have a decent residual, something many natural products lack.
Individuals must further investigate the human health effects of occupational exposure. What dangers do these bio-pesticides and bio-insecticides poise with frequent and regular use to the applicators? What danger does this put on those that milk the scorpion’s venom? Adam Seever, put it this way, “I know it may seem backwards, but I don’t focus on how the products we use will effect my customers. I focus on whether they are safe for my technicians to use on a day in and day out bases. If my techs are safe then the customers will be safe as well.” On a pound per pound base is the scorpion venom more or less toxic then your average pest control product? Lastly, the most severe problems that occurs with products and even with scorpion toxins are caused by a mammals allergic reaction to the products. This varies on a case by case base, but one must wonder if this reaction would be higher in a pyrethrin based product or a scorpion based product.
The response that Michael Gurevite gave us on the potential allergy’s and dangers of the scorpion venom is as follows:
“In the venom of scorpions of the Buthidae family, to which the Israeli yellow scorpion belongs, one can find a large variety of peptide toxins that affect ion channels. We work on those that affect sodium channel. Among these toxins there are different classes divided according to their pharmacological effects (alpha and beta), and further divided to groups by their ability to compete for the same receptor site, and their activity toward mammals and insects. Some of the toxins would be active against practically all animals, some show preference for mammalian channels, and some are anti-insect selective. All these differences in activity and preference are those that interest us at the molecular/structural level.
The desert bark scorpions belong also to the family Buthidae, the most common is Centruroides sculpturatus in Southern US and Mexico. Their venom contains mostly toxins of the beta class that affect mammals and insects. We work on toxins of both the alpha and beta classes.”
Hopefully Micheal’s research pays off. It is very fascinating that he is documenting these effects and classifying them on a molecular level to the point that he can determine a “alpha” or “beta” class. This will in no doubt be beneficial in developing more pest solutions that will only effect insects and not humans. Or taking that one step further, that can target specific insect species.
And yes there is a sinister side of this in that we could use the scorpion’s sting against itself. Imagine the novel title now, “Scorpion’s recruited for Scorpion Control.” And homeowners that deal with scorpions would welcome the opportunity to use an effective scorpion insecticide against scorpion infestations in Phoenix, Austin, and Las Vegas. Especially using their closely related Buthidae family members for Scottsdale scorpion extermination.
There is also a potential that the research could lead to a scorpion based “morphine”, or other scorpion related health care products. Scorpion venom has even been tested in fighting off cancer. Could it be possible that a pesticide and a cancer “fighting” agent could use the same chemical makeup? Perhaps some day sooner than you think.Bulwark Exterminating,1228 E Broadway, Mesa, AZ 85204 (480) 969-7474