Scientists develop scorpion 'milking machine' for disease research

Scorpions crawl on the face of Thailand's 'Scorpion Queen' Kanchana Kaetkaew at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Pattaya on Jan 24, 2009.
Scorpions crawl on the face of Thailand's 'Scorpion Queen' Kanchana Kaetkaew at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Pattaya on Jan 24, 2009.PHOTO: REUTERS

CASABLANCA, Morocco (REUTERS) - Extracting venom from scorpions can be a dangerous, but rewarding, task.

The poisonous secretion, while fatal to humans, contains hundreds of components that have potential uses in the health sector when they are broken down to a molecular level.

In a bid to remove the venom safely, for both scorpion and extractor, a group of scientists in Morocco have developed a remote-controlled 'milking machine', which straps to the scorpion's tail and uses an electric impulse to stimulate the venom glands for the poison to be released.

"What makes it special is that it is safe and fast," said Mouad Mkamel, a researcher at Ben M'sik Hassan II University in Casablanca who, along with a group of university scientists, developed the machine. "If we were able to extract venom from ten scorpions daily in the past, today we can do it with up to 150 of them in a day."

According to the researchers, the business of scorpion-milking can be lucrative. They said that a gram of venom can be sold for around US$8,000 ($10,849), with venom from rarer scorpions selling for up to US$12,000 per gram.

The team are now waiting for their patent to be approved and to start mass-producing their machine.