How to make money from your 50,000 pet spiders

by | Apr 17, 2009 03:00 PM ET

In this video you meet Chuck Kristensen , who has 50,000 pet spiders that he keeps in his home:

The idea of keeping that many pet spiders is interesting, but even more so is the fact that he can make money off them. This article describes the process of "milking" the spiders"

He's a Real Spider-Man!

Kristensen tranquilizes each spider with a gentle breeze of carbon dioxide gas. Once the spider is groggy, Kristensen peers through a special microscope and gently picks up the critter with metal tweezers connected to electricity. The tweezers give the spider a mild shock, and the spider releases its venom. It takes hundreds of spiders and many hours to get just a few drops of venom.

It takes a long time to harvest any amount of venom:

Spider-Venom Profits to Be Funneled Into Conservation

"To get one gram [three-hundredths of an ounce] of black widow venom, it takes 50,000 to 100,000 milkings. One milking takes one minute. So it can take us a year to get one gram," he said.

By milking the spiders, Kristensen is able to sell their venom. His company Spider Pharm is the venom store. Why would someone want to buy the venom? Here's the answer:

The Creepy Cellar Of The Merchant Of Venom

"Spider venom is a gold mine of pharmacological tools," explains Michael Adams, a venom-using neuroscientist at the University of California at Riverside. The active compounds in venom bind with extreme selectivity to molecules on the surfaces of living cells, a property that can be of invaluable use to researchers developing new medicines with better specificity (and thus fewer side effects) or just trying to understand, at the molecular level, the inner workings of living cells.
A venom purchased from Kristensen in the 1980s, for example, helped neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas of New York University School of Medicine discover a new calcium channel involved in the communication between certain neurons, shedding new light on how the mind works. Another toxin extracted from Spider Pharm venom in 1995 by Kenton Swartz at the National Institutes of Health (named hanatoxin after Swartz's daughter) is being used to probe the function of proteins that are located on cellular membranes and have been implicated in diseases ranging from diabetes to epilepsy.

In March, 2009, 50 new spider species were reported:

Jumping spider discovery could aid medical, drug development

With each new species, there is the potential for new medical benefits.

For more info see: How Spiders Work

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