Research has concluded a new bio-pesticide created using spider venom is safe for honey bees but highly toxic to other insects, potentially paving the way for a global change in pest management.
The U.K.'s Newcastle University led the study testing the pesticide Hv1a/GNA, which is a combination of a natural toxin from an Australian funnel-web spider and the protein snowdrop lectin.
It was found to have very little effect on the bees' crucial learning and memory abilities, which are needed to both locate new sources of food and find their way back to the hive.
Newcastle University's Professor Angharad Gatehouse said in a press statement she believed the innovation could widely be used instead of the conventional chemical neonicotinoid pesticides which had been linked with a decline in pollinator populations.
"Our findings suggest that Hv1a/GNA is unlikely to cause any detrimental effects on honeybees. Previous studies have already shown that it is safe for higher animals, which means it has real potential as a pesticide and offers us a safe alternative to some of those currently on the market," she said.
The insecticide is ingested orally, unlike many others which are absorbed through the exoskeleton. Although it can pass through bees' digestive system without adversely affecting them, it will kill many other undesirable insects common found on crops.
Newcastle University's honeybee lab head Dr. Geraldine Wright emphasized the importance of developing bee-friendly insecticides for future food security.
"Around 90% of the world's plants are directly or indirectly reliant on pollinators to survive. If we destroy the biodiversity of pollinators then it will be irrelevant how effective our pesticides are because we won't have any crops to protect," she said.
"There is now substantial evidence linking neonicotinoid pesticides to poor performance and survival in bees and what we need now is a clear directive from Government to develop and introduce bee-safe alternatives."
Despite the positive news, Professor Gatehouse added much more work still had to be done in the industry to support bee populations.
"There isn't going to be one silver bullet. What we need is an integrated pest management strategy and insect-specific pesticides will be just one part of that," she said.
The research project was part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, jointly funded several organizations including the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.