Thursday 5 December 1996 (Daily Telegraph)
Black Widows could yield 'green'
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
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
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
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."