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News Clippings

Thursday 5 December 1996 (Daily Telegraph)

Black Widows could yield 'green' pesticide
By Laura Spinney

TOXINS from the venom of Black Widow spiders could form the basis of a new generation of environmentally-friendly pesticides, it was announced yesterday.

Venom from the spider consists of several different toxins, each of which is lethal to a specific group such as mammals or insects.

By isolating and cloning the toxin that kills insects but has no effect on mammals, toxicologists at the University of Nottingham believe they have come up with a safe and effective alternative to potentially harmful chemical pesticides.

The toxin works by disrupting the communication of nerve cells. Nerve impulses are transmitted when small quantities of neurotransmitter chemicals are released from sacs inside nerve cells and cross the gap between neighbouring cells.

The toxin causes a massive release of neurotransmitter chemicals from nerve cells which overwhelms the victim's nervous system, leading to death. The researchers hope to produce a pesticide by inserting the toxin into a virus that infects only insects.

Dr David Bell, one of the researchers, says this form of biocontrol could be commercially available within five years, depending on the outcome of safety tests.

But Dr Paul Hillyard, a spider specialist at the Natural History Museum, said: "There has been some speculation that the insects may become immune to all spiders' venom and therefore no longer susceptible to their natural predators."

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