The funnel-web spider is one of the most venomous spiders in the world. Just one bite causes confusion, convulsions, extreme pain and, if left untreated, death. The spider’s size and speed just adds to its menacing reputation.

Yet to Professor Glenn King, Atrax robustus isn’t just a spider. It’s a chemical treasure house whose venom contains riches beyond measure: everything from environmentally friendly insecticides to treatments for neurological diseases to new and more targeted forms of pain relief.

And his love affair with the funnel-web began with a dozen glass pipettes with some freeze-dried spider venom at the bottom. “Sent by regular mail,” King told The Brilliant. “You couldn’t do that today.”

The insecticide breakthrough

King is a professor at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, and a world-renowned expert in the biochemistry of venom. It’s a long way from the days when he used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging to study cancer-causing proteins. He set up an NMR lab at the University of Sydney and “cancer was my thing,” he says.

In 1996 he was contacted by toxicologist Dr Merlin Howden, who asked him to identify the structure and mode of action of a molecule found in funnel-web venom. “He was interested in it because it was insecticidal,” says King.

This article first appeared in The Brilliant. You can read the entire article here.

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