Scorpion-milking robot aims to end manual venom collection

A new robot has been designed to milk scorpions in order to extract their medically valuable venom. This could put an end to the dangerous practice of “manual” extraction.

Scorpion venom is a complex substance, capable of producing a range of specialised effects in different animals. It contains proteins and other biologically active compounds, many of which are valuable in medical research and treatments. They are used in immunosuppressants, anti-malarial drugs and some cancer research.

One informal analysis ranked scorpion venom as the most expensive liquid on earth, at nearly $39 million per gallon ($8.5 million per litre). While scorpion venom is highly sought after, the traditional methods for harvesting it can be life-threatening.

Electrical stimulation involves dunking a live scorpion in a salty solution to improve electrical conduction and shocking the animal with a simple battery, before manually milking the scorpion by massaging its abdomen to release venom. These methods can be dangerous and unreliable.

Safer alternatives – such as puncturing the scorpion’s venom gland or abdominal removal – tend to be harmful or lethal to the animal.

“The extraction of scorpion venom is a very difficult task and usually takes at least two experimenters,” said Mouad Mkamel, who built the robot with a team of researchers from Ben M’sik Hassan II University in Morocco.

“There are numerous risks including potentially deadly scorpion stings and electric shocks from the stimulators used to extract the venom.”

The VES-4 device was created as a lightweight, portable tool for researchers in the lab and in the field needing to extract high-quality venom without harm to themselves or the animal.  According to the researches, it can be remotely operated by a single experimenter, while traditional methods normally require a team to handle the scorpion.

The robot clamps the scorpion’s tail and stimulates the animal with electricity to release droplets of venom, which can be stored securely. It has been tested on various species of scorpion and can be programmed to adjust its settings for different species.

“This robot makes venom recover fast and safe,” Mr Mkamel concludes.

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