Agilent and the Armed Spider

Who doesn’t love a good, icky spider story?

Phoneutria nigriventer is one of the world’s largest spiders, with a leg span of 6 inches.  It is more affectionately known as the “Brazilian Wandering Spider,” the “Armed Spider” or the “Banana Spider.”

(Regarding the “Banana” nickname — phoneutria doesn’t actually eat bananas.  In fact, you could argue with the “Brazilian” nickname as well – one of these was once found in the produce section of an Oklahoma Whole Foods Market.)

What happens if you get bitten by the wandering spider?  It depends on whom you ask.

“Within minutes you will have breathing problems,” says biologist Terry Childs.  “You’ll start to lose control of your muscles, you’ll start to drool and within 20 to 25 minutes you’ll probably collapse on the floor and die of asphyxiation.”  For years, the Guinness Book of World Records called phoneutria “the world’s most deadly spider.”

On the other hand, arachnologist Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal says that humans shouldn’t panic.  While “venom from these spiders caused death in mice,” she says, “we are many times larger than a mouse.”

Brazilian researchers studied how phoneutria venom disrupts the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in bite victims.  They also found that the body activates a protective mechanism by upregulating and downregulating several BBB-associated proteins.  The researchers used an Agilent qPCR system and AffinityScript cDNA Synthesis Kit in their work.

One last note: phoneutria venom boosts nitric oxide, a chemical that increases blood flow.  So one unfortunate effect of the spider’s bite is priapsism (um… look it up).  As a result, researchers have investigated the venom as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.  (Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Want more?  You can view a one-minute video about phoneutria here.


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