Scorpions at the MSU bug house on Monday April 25, 2011.

Ouch! Bug killer from scorpion venom

MICHIGAN STATE U. (US) — Pests be warned. Researchers are hopeful scorpion venom can be used to develop potent insecticides.

Scorpion venom attacks various channels and receptors that control insects’ nervous and muscular systems. One major target of scorpion toxins is the voltage-gated sodium channel, a protein found in nerve and muscle cells used for rapid electrical signals.

“Interestingly, some scorpion toxins selectively affect one type of sodium channels, but not others,” says Ke Dong, insect toxicologist and neurobiologist at Michigan State University.

“The goal of our scorpion toxin project is to understand why certain scorpion toxins act on insect sodium channels, but not their mammalian counterparts.”


(Credit: Greg Kohuth)

Dong and a team of researchers were able to identify amino acid residues in insect sodium channels that make the channels more vulnerable to the venom from the Israeli desert scorpion. The team also discovered that an important sodium channel voltage sensor can influence the potency of the scorpion toxin.

Their results are reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“Investigating the venom’s effect on the voltage-gated sodium channel could provide valuable information for designing new insecticides that work by selectively targeting insect sodium channels,” Dong says.

Several classes of insecticides act on sodium channels, but insects become resistant to them over time. The researchers are studying how insects develop resistance and what alternatives can be created to control resistant pests, Dong adds.

Scientists from Tel Aviv University and the University of California at Irvine contributed to this study. Dong’s research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, and MSU AgBioResearch.

More news from Michigan State University: news.msu.edu

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