SEP 2019  
Maneka Speaks
Entomotherapy: Can Insects Heal Us?

There are no pests, no weeds in nature. There are beings who get in the way of humans growing food or destroying the habitat in order to take up residence and make service centres for these human populations. Billions of insects are killed by pesticides alone for this purpose. Human beings have used insects as medicine in different human cultures throughout the world but very little research was done to convert local use into proven, standardized medicine. Entomotherapy is a branch of science that uses insects for medicine. The rise of antibiotic resistant infections has forced pharmaceutical research into looking for new resources. Many insects used in alternative medicine are now being tested for mainstream medical products. FDA for instance, recently approved the flu vaccine, Flublok, which is derived from cells taken from the ovaries of the fall armyworm moth.

One insect alone, the honey bee, provides honey, pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and an anti-inflammatory peptide melittin. Honey is applied to skin to treat scar tissue, rashes, and burns, and as an eye poultice, for digestive problems and as a general health restorative. It is taken hot to treat colds, coughs, laryngitis, tuberculosis, throat infections, and lung diseases.

Apitoxin (honey bee venom) is applied through direct stings to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, polyneuritis, and asthma. Propolis, used by bees as a hive insulator and sealant, is said to have antibiotic, anaesthetic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Royal jelly is used to treat anaemia, ulcers, arteriosclerosis, and hypertension. Bee pollen is eaten as a health restorative.

Over a thousand protein families have been identified in the saliva of blood-feeding insects; these may provide useful drugs such as anticoagulants, vasodilators, antihistamines and anaesthetics.

Here are some lesser known insects that are used in human medicine.

The University of Miami is researching the use of the venom of the South American Devil Tree Ant in rheumatoid arthritis. Half the patients were injected with venom extract. The other half with placebos. Those who received the venom derivative showed dramatic reduction in the number and intensity of inflamed joints, and marked increases in their freedom of motion. Patients who received the placebo showed no improvement. A US patent is pending on the chemical. Many native healers use ants. Black mountain ant extracts dilate blood vessels that supply the penis. The venom of the Red Harvester Ant was used to cure rheumatism, arthritis, and poliomyelitis.  The South American tree ant, Pseudomyrmex sp. commonly called as the Samsum Ant’s venom can reduce inflammation, inhibit tumour growth, and treat liver ailments.

Several African cultures use poultices made from ground grasshoppers as pain relievers for migraines. Neurologists hypothesize that grasshopper toxins stimulate the human central nervous system and dilate blood vessels increasing circulation. Powdered sun-dried grasshopper is turned into a tea for the treatment of asthma and hepatitis.

Across Southeast Asia, healers have capitalized on blister beetles’healing powers since ancient times. Blister beetle secretions reduce burning pain sensations commonly associated with urinary tract infections, insect bites, kidney problems, and burns.

Blister beetles secrete cantharidin, which is effective in treating severe viral infections, because it prevents viral cell reproduction and may be useful in treatment of cancerous tumours resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. A number of research papers have been published confirming that cantharidin has multiple effects on cancer cells

Emerging science suggests that silkworm extracts may have benefits as dietary supplements for patients with heart disease and circulatory disorders. Preliminary studies indicate they reduce serum cholesterol and dissolve vascular plaque. Boiled silkworm pupae have been used by Chinese medicine to treat apoplexy, bronchitis, convulsions, and frequent urination - a bacterium that lives in the digestive system of silkworms contains a substance known as serrapeptase. This substance appears to offer pain relief for people with back injuries. There are studies underway to see if they can also help with sports injuries.

Traditional Asian practitioners use centipedes to treat tetanus, seizures, and convulsions. Centipedes are dried, ground into a paste, and applied topically to sores and carbuncles.  

Ayurveda uses termites and their mounds for ulcers, rheumatic diseases, anaemia, and pain. In Africa, termites are used in asthma, bronchitis, influenza, whooping cough, flu, and so on.

The Jatropha leaf miner, a moth that feeds on Jatropha, is an example of an insect considered a pest that has medicinal value. The larvae of the insect are harvested, boiled, and mashed into a paste which is administered topically and is said to induce lactation, reduce fever, and soothe gastrointestinal tracts. The May beetle is used as a remedy for anaemia and rheumatism. Spider silk is an ideal material to use in skin grafts or ligament implants because it is one of the strongest known natural fibres and triggers little immune response. Spider silk may also be used to make fine sutures for stitching nerves or eyes to heal with little scarring.

In the heads of cockroaches are chemical compounds that can kill Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) two harmful bacteria that are resistant to most drugs. It was discovered that tissues taken from the brains and nervous system of the insects killed off over 90 per cent of MRSA infections and E. coli. Also, scientists from the Institute for Biomedical Research, Barcelona have carried out successful in vitro tests using wasp venom to kill cancer cells. Wasp venom contains Polybia MPI (from venom of the wasp Polybiapaulista) which shows anti-tumour activity which kills only cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells around it.

In 1993 margatoxin was synthesized from the venom of the Central American bark scorpion. Patented by Merck, it has the potential to prevent bypass graft failure. Scorpion venom extract has been shown to be able to detect and spotlight cancer cells under a special light used during surgery.

All these insects are being killed in the millions everyday as pests. Unless we take action to protect and develop our environment sustainably and get rid of pesticides/herbicides and poisons that kill them and us, the window of chance for the discovery of new medicinal agents will be closed forever. One day we will find that the millions of insects we have killed through pest control could have saved our lives. By then it might be too late for them and us.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in Indias CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]