Scorpion’s sting evolved from insects’ defensive proteins

A single genetic deletion may have transformed some of the defensive proteins in insects into toxins that this emperor scorpion and other species use to deliver their deadly sting.

Mike Baird/Wikimedia Commons

The proteins that prevent viral, bacterial or fungal infections in insects are similar in structure to stinging proteins in scorpions. Removing a tiny loop on one defensive insect protein changed the molecule’s function from fighting against microbes to having the ability to paralyze prey, researchers report January 14 in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

The experiment is the first to show how insect proteins could have evolved into the more damaging toxins seen in scorpions.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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