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Individual Insects Make Signature Venoms

STICK IT TO 'EM Walking stick insects like this one can lash out at predators with noxious chemical sprays emitted from a gland behind the head.

STICK IT TO ‘EM
Walking stick insects like this one can lash out at predators with noxious chemical sprays emitted from a gland behind the head.

Walking stick study hints at chemical biodiversity in these insects

It’s safe to say that not many people have milked the insects known as walking sticks for the defensive secretions the insects spray when threatened. Now, milkers in Gainesville, Fla., have used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to discover that the secretions of individual walking sticks are chemically distinct. “Single-insect variability of venom demonstrates the potential variability of chemical biodiversity at the level of individual animals,” the researchers say.

Walking sticks would never have perambulated into Arthur S. Edison’s laboratory at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute were it not for graduate student Aaron T. Dossey, an amateur entomologist who roams the Florida landscape collecting insects, including walking sticks. Dossey has repeatedly been on the business end of the insects’ chemical weaponry, which is extremely noxious to the nose and eyes.

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ACS Publications: Introducing our Authors

Current position: University of Florida, College of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, postdoctoral research associate with Prof. Arthur Edison

Education: Oklahoma State University, B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, cum laude, 2001; University of Florida, Gainesville, Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology, with Prof. Art Edison, 2006

Nonscientific interests: Entomology, keeping and breeding invertebrates, comedy, playing trumpet, nature photography, travel, gardening, camping, fishing, and hiking through the wilderness

This project was my first chance to incorporate my passion for studying insects with my formal training in biochemistry. One aspect that I found most fascinating was that we were able to analyze venom from a single insect and discover unreported components of that substance. Such a discovery opens new doors to understanding arthropod chemistry. Indeed, only a tiny fraction of the total chemical biodiversity that exists in insects alone has been determined. I hope to continue exploring the large potential for discovery that exists in these creatures. Using cutting-edge technologies such as the microsample NMR used in our study of phasmid insect venom, we can now begin to push the frontiers of natural products chemistry. I am currently looking for future work involving medicinal and natural product discovery from invertebrates. (Read Dossey’s article on p 511.)

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Insect’s Venom Eyed For Cancer Defense

P. mocquerys, Credit: Oskar V. Conle P. mocquerys,a rare walkingstick found only in Madagascar.

P. mocquerys,
Credit: Oskar V. Conle P. mocquerys,a rare walkingstick found only in Madagascar.


Walkingstick’s novel monoterpene shows activity against tumor cells
Camouflage is not the only trick Madagascar walkingsticks use to thwart their enemies. These insects also spray a defensive fluid, and a team of researchers hopes the fluid’s key chemical, parectadial, will ward off a human enemy: cancer.

The team, led by biochemistry professor Arthur S. Edison of the University of Florida, details their discovery and characterization of parectadial along with their development of a synthetic route to this novel monoterpene (J. Nat. Prod., DOI: 10.1021/np070151g).

Studying an insect’s defensive fluid is often a challenge because the sample size typically is minuscule. Edison’s team overcame this obstacle by using microsample NMR technology aimed at analyzing natural products (C&EN, Sept. 25, 2006, page 15). Analysis of venom from the Madagascar walkingstick (Parectatosoma mocquerysi) revealed a monoterpene dialdehyde that Edison’s team named parectadial.

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Butterflies, Beetles Bees, Bugs… Insects Rule! ISO Entomology Contributors, Sponsors and Volunteers at the Expo!

Photo credit: Science Blogs

Photo credit: Science Blogs


Insects make up the largest and most diverse group of organisms on the planet, with the over 1 million described and 4-30 estimated species all playing a crucial role in biodiversity of the ecosystem. They are also critical for a wide variety of science and technology fields including agriculture, environmental and even biomedical science, and are even being explored as a vital source of food.

“Insects are much too important to leave out of an event like the USA Science & Engineering Festival,” says Dr. Aaron T. Dossey, a Ph.D. biochemist and postdoctoral research entomologist, currently working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agriculture Research Service.

This noted insect scientist is seeking sponsors, volunteers and interested organizations to help him host an Entomology-centered section at the Festival’s finale Expo next April.

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