The deathstalker scorpion's venom is used to identify brain tumor cells.
The deathstalker scorpion’s venom is used to identify brain tumor cells. Ester Inbar/Wikimedia Commons

Milking a scorpion is not easy. The arachnid may not feel terribly cooperative when you deliver tiny electric shocks and then capture the venom that emerges from its stinger. You need to avoid shocking yourself, for sure, and, depending on the species, the venom can potentially kill you. It’s a lot of work and sometimes requires two people for very little payoff—just a tiny amount of venom for medical research. But if milking scorpions happens to be your day job, your days could be about to get a whole lot easier.

The VES-4 robot was developed by a team of researchers from Ben M’sik Hassan II University in Morocco, and it is a lot safer than current methods. The machine holds the scorpion’s tail in place while delivering electric shocks to stimulate venom production. It collects and stores the venom, too. The shocks don’t hurt the scorpion, and the procedure saves them from having to have their venom glands removed for the extraction.

A safer method for obtaining scorpion venom is a big deal for medicine. Venom from the deathstalker scorpion, found in Africa and Asia, for example, is being used to highlight brain cancer cells so surgeons can remove them. Another scorpion, found in Mexico, produces venom that contains an immunosuppressant that could one day be used to treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Now scientists can focus on finding uses for venom, instead of worrying about how they’ll get more safely.