A new technology in insect pest control discovered by a Health Center researcher may lead the way to a new generation of safer insecticides.
| Glenn King, professor of biochemistry and microbiology at the UConn Health Center. His research on spider venom may lead to the development of a new generation of insecticides.
|Photo by Peter Morenus
More than $1,000,000 is being invested by Chemtura Corp. in Venomix Inc., a UConn Research and Development Corp. startup company, for the development of insecticides that will exploit molecular targets first identified in the laboratory of Glenn King, a professor of molecular, microbial and structural biology at the Health Center.
Venomix specializes in agricultural biotechnology. Chemtura Corp. is a global manufacturer of specialty chemicals, with headquarters in Middlebury, Conn.
"The insecticides will have applications in agricultural, animal health, and non-crop markets," says Mark Van Allen, president of the UConn Research and Development Corp.
"Venomix is advancing the next generation of insecticides for the environmentally conscious 21st century."
Today's common pesticides have attacked the same limited number of molecular targets in the insect nervous system for decades, says King, and that leads to a cycl e of superbug survivors that can only be killed by more toxic pesticides.
His technology attacks new nervous system targets, reducing the risk of insects' rapidly acquiring resistance.
And, because the new insecticides only affect insects, the impact on aquatic life, birds, and animals will be minimal.
Studying the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider, King and fellow researchers located several compounds that only kill insects, first publishing the results in the scientific journal Nature Structural Biology in June 2000.
Further work by the group determined the molecular targets of the insect-specific toxins.
"We have a very good reason to look for safer, nontoxic, and more efficient pesticides," says King. "More than a billion pounds are sprayed in the U.S. each year. That's four pounds per person. These toxins find their way into the food and water supply, and pose a serious threat to animals, fish, and birds.
"The insecticides we are developing should be much better from an environmental point of view," he adds, "because they have novel modes of action that make them toxic only to insects and related pests."
John Westcott, Chemtura Crop Protection's director of global commercial development, says the agreement fits the company's strategy of partnering with universities and other organizations to develop innovative technology: "Chemtura is optimistic and excited about this technology, which also meets our corporate goal of developing products with minimal impact on the environment."
Says UConn's Van Allen, "This is a technology that has the potential to usher in a new era of insecticide discovery. We are delighted to be partnered with a strong, innovative company like Chemtura in moving the technology forward."