Researcher returns to fight insects with spider venom

1 Mar 2007

A researcher who has spent most of the past decade working in the U.S. has returned to Australia to continue working on environmentally-friendly insect control methods based on spider venom compounds. 

Professor Glenn King, formerly at the University of Connecticut in the United States, recently joined The University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, (IMB) where he will further develop his pioneering approach to insecticide discovery. 

“Since spiders have been developing insecticidal compounds for almost 400 million years, I decided to interrogate their venoms to find natural toxins that might kill insects without harming vertebrates,” Professor King said. 

He has since described three families of insecticidal compounds, and moved back to Australia with the help of a $576,000 Australian Research Council grant entitled “Safeguarding Australia against invasive arthropod pests”. 

“An increasingly serious public health issue for Australia is the emergence of infectious diseases spread by insects such as ticks and mosquitoes,” Professor King said. 

“Insect-borne viruses are already the major human pathogens in Australia and they disproportionately affect Aboriginal communities.” 

Professor King will use the grant to examine spider venom to discover and develop compounds to control insects and other arthropod pests. 

“Hopefully this project will result in environmentally-sustainable methods for controlling insects that destroy crops or spread human and animal disease,” Professor King said. 

The primary reasons behind his move were the advanced infrastructure and collaborative opportunities available at the IMB, according to Professor King. 

“The IMB houses a 900MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer, the most powerful commercially-available machine in the world for determining the three-dimensional solution structure of large molecules,” Professor King said. 

“This machine will greatly assist in my research, as will the chance to collaborate with the IMB's other chemical researchers, who are actively investigating the therapeutic potential of chemical compounds from other animal venoms.” 

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said that Professor King's move from the United States to Brisbane highlighted the region's growing reputation as a hub for scientific research. 

“This has been brought about partly because of the generosity of the Queensland State Government, who provide funding to the IMB, and funded the acquisition of the 900 MHz NMR, which has already proven its worth by allowing our scientists to perform research equal to that of anywhere else in the world, and by attracting such a talented researcher to Queensland.” 

Professor King studied for his undergraduate and PhD degrees at the University of Sydney. In 1986 he departed for the University of Oxford on a C.J. Martin Fellowship, awarded to early-career scientists of outstanding ability to allow them to study overseas, and to encourage them to make medical research a full-time career. 

Professor King returned to a faculty position in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Sydney in 1989, before moving to the University of Connecticut in 1999. 

While working in Sydney he won the Boehringer-Mannheim Medal, awarded by the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for outstanding biochemical research by a young scientist in Australia. In 2006, Professor King was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. 

Media contacts:Professor Glenn King – 07 3346 2025 or Bronwyn Allan (IMB Communications) – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247.