Strange biology: the very poisonous caterpillar
The venom of a caterpillar, native to southeast Queensland, shows promise for use in drugs and pest control, according to researchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
the Doratifera vulnerans is common to large parts of South East Queensland and is regularly found in Toohey Forest Park in the southern part of Brisbane.
Dr Andrew Walker has been researching the striking looking caterpillar since 2017.
Doratifera vulnerans is common across much of Southeast Queensland and shows promise for use in drugs and pest control, according to researchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience. Credit: Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland
The poisonous caterpillar has a strange biology
“We found one while collecting killer bugs near Toowoomba and its strange biology and painful venom fascinated me,” said Dr Walker.
contrary to The hungry caterpillar which has charmed generations of children around the world, this caterpillar is far from harmless.
“Its binomial name means ‘bearer of gifted wounds’,” said Dr Walker.
Spider-like caterpillar venom
Dr. Walker’s research revealed that the caterpillar contains poison toxins with a molecular structure similar to those produced by spiders, wasps, bees and ants.
The research has also unlocked a source of bioactive peptides that can be used in medicine, biotechnology or as scientific tools.
“Many caterpillars produce painful venoms and have developed biological defenses such as itchy hairs, toxins that make them poisonous to eat, spots that mimic snake eyes, or thorns that inject liquid venoms,” said the Dr Walker.
“Previously, researchers had no idea what was in the venom or how it caused pain.
Venom with amazing complexity
“We have found that the venom is mainly composed of peptides and exhibits astonishing complexity, containing 151 different toxins made from proteins from 59 different families.”
The team of researchers synthesized 13 of the peptide toxins and used them to show the unique evolutionary trajectory followed by the caterpillar to produce pain-inducing venom.
“We now know the amino acid sequences, or blueprints, of each protein-based toxin,” Dr. Walker said.
“This will allow us to make the toxins and test them in various ways. “
Venom can kill bacteria
Some peptides already produced in the lab as part of Dr. Walker’s research have shown tremendous potency, with the potential to effectively kill nematode parasites that are harmful to livestock, as well as pathogenic pathogens.
“Our research opens up a new source of bioactive peptides that can be used in medicine, with an ability to influence biological processes and promote good health,” he said.
Potential for drugs and pesticides
“First of all, we need to figure out what the individual toxins are doing, to educate ourselves on how they might be used.”
The results incorporate the work of researchers from CSIRO, York University in Canada, the University of Vienna in Austria, and the United States Department of Food and Agriculture.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the United States National Academy of Sciences.
Reference: “Production, composition and mode of action of the painful defensive venom produced by a limacodid caterpillar, Doratifera vulneransBy Andrew A. Walker, Samuel D. Robinson, Jean-Paul V. Paluzzi, David J. Merritt, Samantha A. Nixon, Christina I. Schroeder, Jiayi Jin, Mohaddeseh Hedayati Goudarzi, Andrew C. Kotze, Zoltan Dekan, Andy Sombke, Paul F. Alewood, Bryan G. Fry, Marc E. Epstein, Irina Vetter and Glenn F. King, June 22, 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2023815118