Chronic Pain? Take A Peruvian Green Velvet Tarantula And Call Me In The Morning

A lab in New Haven
Held biotech mavens
Who looked at the functions of nerves
Along came a spider
With venom inside her
So they looked at purpose it serves

See, nature is cunning
And spiders are stunning—
No, really; their bites stun their prey
So maybe a toxin
Some synapse, just locks in
And shuts down the nerve in this way

They’ve explored bites and stings
Of such poisonous things
But they wished they could search even more
The answer’s appearing
Cos, now, toxineering
Yields larger amounts to explore

Now, one such advance
From a kind of tarant-
ula (called the Peruvian Green),
The authors explain
Could relieve chronic pain:
Toxineering pays off, we have seen

But the true coolest thing
(and this makes my heart sing)
Is that, someday, I’m likely to hear
From my neighbor (say, Bob)
When I ask him his job,
He replies “I’m a nerve toxineer”.

Via the NY Times, some really cool science.

Venoms contain many active toxins, not all of them suitable for use in humans. And once a potentially effective toxin is identified, researchers must run further tests to determine which neural pathways it might affect.

But now researchers at Yale University say they have sped up the process by using DNA cloning technology to build large libraries of spider venoms. This makes it easier to test the impact of a broad range of toxins on a particular neural pathway. They refer to the process as toxineering.

Three cool things stand out to me:

Third coolest: Sure, we’ve seen it before, but the whole idea of using naturally occurring venoms as a laboratory for medicine is just plain cool. The paper the Times refers to reviews quite a few examples, only some of which I was familiar with–cone snail toxins, for instance, along with scorpion venom and literally hundreds of different sorts of spider venoms. Evolution did the tinkering to invent the stuff, and all we need to do is discover it before we render it extinct (we are our own worst enemies, sometimes). In this case, a promising treatment for chronic pain and inflammation was found in the venom of Peruvian Green Velvet Tarantula. Yeah, I know–and this is only the third coolest thing.

Second coolest: But you see, naturally occurring venoms are messy–there may be a great many different toxic peptides in one spider’s venom, in varying amounts, and it might be very difficult to see the effects of a low-concentration peptide when it is masked by a much more abundant one. The new research clones individual toxins, such that mixtures of equal molarity can be tested. The specific peptide here was found by systematically exploring a toxin library of around 100 cloned toxic peptides. The procedure can be scaled, too–it doesn’t depend on farming a whole bunch of spiders. So, yeah, there are people who can casually drop into conversation the fact that they happen to have a library of spider toxins that they can mix to order. I expect this from Bond villains, or from Sherlock Holmes, but not in real life. Very cool. But only second coolest.

Coolest: They call the process “Toxineering”. Which, to me, juxtaposes thoughts of SPECTRE and the Mickey Mouse Club. “Toxineer roll call!” I picture lab headgear with, instead of Mousketeer ears, oversized tarantula eyes. Annette Funicello with extra legs. Theme parks located in hollowed out volcanoes. Souvenir lab coats.

But I am easily amused.


  1. rq says

    “Toxineer” makes me think of pirates, actually, which is also cool!
    So much complexity in those wee little arachnids (and others). Here’s to a pain-free future for all – or at least, one where all pain is manageable!

  2. Pliny the in Between says

    Medicinal and scientific uses of natural toxins are a wonder. Few examples – Penicillin, cobra venom (used in early DNA sequencing work), Botulinum for severe muscle spasticity, Vinca alkaloids (cancer), curare, we could go on for days.

  3. =8)-DX says

    Meanwhile, somewhere on the internets..

    At the door:
     “Hello ma’am, I’m the toxineer come to mix up that special batch you ordered.”
     “Oh! Come in, you must be very strong carrying such a heavy toxin case!”
     “Where should I put it, ma’am?”
     “Follow me, I know exactly where I need my toxins!”
    Cut to bedroom…

    It’s happening! Rule 34 is never broken!

  4. Cuttlefish says

    I had a prof once who organized an entire lecture on synaptic transmission around poisonous animals and nerve gases. Neurotransmitter releasers, or inhibitors, enzymatic deactivation, re-uptake, increases or decreases in post-synaptic membrane sensitivity, etc… These toxins cause spastic paralysis (by several distinctly different mechanisms), those cause flaccid paralysis (again, multiple mechanisms), such that at one point we learned that if you are bitten by this particular snake, you have a few minutes in order to locate this particular spider and have it bite you, because the two toxins affect the same mechanism in opposite ways.

    Mind you, I don’t remember which animals, and I’m pretty sure it was more for effect than as practical advice! I’d love to see his reaction to this new “toxineering” procedure!

  5. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    I have some nasty chronic pain problems and love spiders intensely. This is such amazing news, and it also makes me happy because yay tarantula. And the term “toxineer” is definitely the best.

  6. says

    Bee venom has been found effective against rheumatoid arthritis, neuralgia, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, and some muscle conditions. This success is likely what sparked the more far-reaching research.


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