Friday, July 1, 2011

The 1st South East Asian Spider Workshop

The notion to organize this event came following the visit of a delegation from the Faculty of Medicine in Universiti Malaya to the National University of Singapore earlier this year. Then the team of Dr. Noraishah Abd Aziz worked on putting up a workshop to congregate spider academicians within our region. We had 2 renowned professors from NUS- Prof Gopal (as seen on NatGeo) and Prof Li (the spider behaviour expert) who shared their expertise with the participants. Dr Noraishah and me put a presentation on the last day on the gene expression of spiders.

Prof Gopal shared the biochemistry of toxin and how the venom from spiders can be valuable to sciene. Apparently its venom, after isolation, can have a selective effect on certain ion channels in human nervous system. With further research, crucial drugs with little side effects can be developed. An example of established venom-derived drug is Arvin which was taken from the Malayan pit viper.

Prof Li Daiqin showing spider morphology as seen through a microscope connected to LCD screen.

Prof Li and mosquito entomologist Mr. John Jeffrey. Behind is Dr Lau (UPM) and Syuhada (UM-ISB).

The next day we looked at spider morphology and flourescence under conscopic microscope. Prof Li, who published a paper in Science on the latter subject, gave a lecture on effect of UV reflectance in spider courtship behaviour. In the evening we had a field trip to look at nocturnal spiders in their habitat. We went into the forest at 9pm and came out slightly after 12 midnight. Some of the spider we encountered are shown below.


Caerostris sumatrana.

Pandercetes sp. guarding egg sac.

From Left: Mustakiza, Syuhadah, Prof Li, me and Azmizi. 

On the last day of the workshop we looked at gene expression of spider. The model chosen was the local Pardosa wolf spider and we saw the development of spider embryo from newly a fertilized egg well into the fetus. The application of this study is immense since this is where the biological blueprint resides. It's like playing lego.

We are looking forward to have more such event to be organized in Malaysia as it gives the room for researcher with common interest to communicate freely. It may not be something which brings in foreign investment or spur the country's economy directly but is certainly an area where we have a lot of room to work on the research. If we are to become a knowledgable society, then we must not stress only on immediate financial gain. While this kind of study might not directly produce extra income to the country, it can contribute to the prevention of deaths from vector-borne disease and disaster by crop pests. Fundamental scientific studies need to be done before we can tap such knowledge for applied science to start working, not the other way around. This is the kind of development our country needs, even more than new condominium projects.