Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money
Egyptian engineer Ahmed Abu Al-Seoud extracts poison from a scorpion in Egypt’s Western Desert. (AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2021

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money
  • Scorpion venom used by big pharma companies
  • Workers wait 20-30 days between extractions

CAIRO: Surrounded by thousands of live scorpions in a laboratory deep in Egypt’s Western Desert, Ahmed Abu Al-Seoud carefully handles one of the curved-tailed arachnids before extracting a drop of its venom.
A mechanical engineer who worked in the oil sector for almost two decades, Abu Al-Seoud decided in 2018 to strike a different path — producing scorpion venom for pharmaceutical research purposes.
“I was surfing the Internet and saw scorpion venom was one of the most expensive on the market,” said the 44-year-old, clad in a white lab coat.
“So I thought to myself: Why not take advantage of this desert environment where they roam around?“
Biomedical researchers are studying the pharmaceutical properties of scorpion venom, making the rare and potent neurotoxin a highly sought-after commodity now produced in several Middle Eastern countries.
“Dozens of scorpion-derived bioactive molecules have been shown to possess promising pharmacological properties,” said a review published last May in the journal Biomedicines.
It said labs are now studying its potential anti-microbial, immuno-suppressive and anti-cancer effects, among others, hoping to one day use or synthesize them for medicines.
Abu Al-Seoud is from the Dakhla oasis, located in Egypt’s vast New Valley province and around 800 kilometers (500 miles) southwest of the capital Cairo.
Sand dunes and towering palms surround his laboratory, which he affectionately calls the “Scorpion Kingdom.”
“Here, every family has a story about a scorpion sting,” Abu Al-Seoud said.
To get the animals to secrete venom in the controlled conditions of the lab, the scorpions are given a slight electric shock.
Workers wait 20-30 days between extractions to obtain the highest quality venom.
“What matters is the level of purity,” Abu Al-Seoud said, adding that one gram requires the venom of 3,000-3,500 scorpions.
The liquid is refrigerated and transported to Cairo, where it is dried and packaged for sale as powder.
The laboratory “is certified (by the government) and has the ability to export this unique product,” said 25-year-old Nahla Abdel-Hameed, a pharmacist who works at the center.
Abdel-Hameed referred to some scientific studies that explored the healing benefits of the venom in curing certain diseases.
Mohey Hafez, a member of the pharmaceutical chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, was more cautious in his assessment of its current uses.
“Scorpion and snake venoms can be used in making antisera,” he explained to AFP.
“There is no ready-made medication that entirely depends on the venom as a direct ingredient, but there has been promising research into its uses.”
New Valley province boasts around five different species of scorpions, including the sought-after deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus), whose venom sells for up to $7,500 per gram, according to Abu Al-Seoud.
While he himself also catches the creatures, he employs residents of nearby villages for the risky activity, equipping them with gloves, tweezers, boots, UV lights — and antivenom.
The scorpion hunters earn one to 1.5 Egyptian pounds (around six to 10 cents) per animal.
Pharmacist Abdel-Hameed said the arachnids are caught in residential areas so as not to harm “the ecological balance.”
“I classify them according to the area where they were caught, the species and size,” she said.
Her colleague Iman Abdel-Malik said that although the scorpions could go without eating for long periods, they were given “food and protein to increase the toxin excretion” — comprised of cockroaches and worms twice a month in the summer, and less during the winter hibernation.
There are plans to breed the scorpions in the future rather than catching them, the veterinarian aged in her 20s added.
About 20,000 of the animals have been collected so far, according to business partner Alaa Sabaa, while the lab has a maximum capacity of 80,000.
He said the first scorpion venom extractions took place in December and January after two years of preparations, and yielded “three grams of venom.”
The self-financed project has so far cost about five million pounds, or around $320,000, he said, and has also attracted government support.
They also extract bee venom and sell agricultural products, including aromatic plants.
While Egypt has been producing various types of venom for years, Abu Al-Seoud said, it was often done illegally or was of poor quality.
He said he hoped his operation would one day be an antidote to the country’s “bad reputation” in the sector.
“We are trying to show off the country’s capabilities... through a high-quality product that has been studied scientifically as well as produced and exported legally,” he said.


ACWA Power among bidders of 1,200 MW Saudi renewable energy projects 

ACWA Power among bidders of 1,200 MW Saudi renewable energy projects 
Updated 11 sec ago

ACWA Power among bidders of 1,200 MW Saudi renewable energy projects 

ACWA Power among bidders of 1,200 MW Saudi renewable energy projects 

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Energy announced the list of candidates for bids received from developers, participating in the third phase of renewable energy projects in the Kingdom, consisting of four independent generation projects (IPP) for solar photovoltaic energy with a total capacity of 1200 MW.

French Total Solar and ACWA Power are both candidates for the Wadi Al-Dawasir project with a capacity of 120 MW, while ACWA Power and AlFanar Energy Company are candidates for the Laila project with a capacity of 80 MW, under Category A.


What is the future of food? Dubai forum talks answers

What is the future of food? Dubai forum talks answers
Updated 3 min 59 sec ago

What is the future of food? Dubai forum talks answers

What is the future of food? Dubai forum talks answers
  • The UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam bint Al-Mheiri is opening the first day of the 2-day forum

DUBAI: High-profile personalities in the food and beverage sector gathered at the Dubai Exhibition Center on Tuesday to talk about the future of food. 

The UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam bint Al-Mheiri is opening the first day of the 2-day forum addressing government efforts in supporting manufacturers. 

Other top executives — from organizations such as Pepsico, Kellogs, and Agthia — will also take the stage to answer questions in food sustainability, supply chain challenges, and other crucial topics in the region’s F&B scene. 


Saudi holdings of US treasury bills fell to lowest in 14 months

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills fell to lowest in 14 months
Updated 9 min 53 sec ago

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills fell to lowest in 14 months

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills fell to lowest in 14 months

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's holding of US Treasury securities decreased by the end of August to $124.1 billion, the lowest since May 2020, according to new data from the US government.

The Saudi holdings in August were down by 3.1 percent or $4 billion compared to the previous month.

The holdings declined by 4.5 percent equivalent to $5.9 billion on an annual basis, compared to August 2020, the data showed.


Gold edges lower as US Treasury yields rise

Gold edges lower as US Treasury yields rise
Updated 18 October 2021

Gold edges lower as US Treasury yields rise

Gold edges lower as US Treasury yields rise

BENGALURU: Gold edged lower on Monday as a rise in US Treasury yields dented its appeal, although a risk-off sentiment in wider financial markets limited losses for the metal.

Spot gold was down 0.1 percent at $1,765.14 per ounce by 1:35 p.m. EDT (1735 GMT), while US gold futures settled down 0.2 percent at $1,765.70.

“If yields keep rising, the headwinds will remain significant for gold,” OANDA analyst Craig Erlam said.

“Unless markets start to price in bad news for the economy and stock markets, which may be a rational next step if policymakers insist on tightening even as the recovery remains sluggish and downside risks significant.”

Sentiment in wider financial markets remained weak as economic growth in China slowed, while a relentless surge in oil prices fueled concerns about elevated inflation.

US benchmark 10-year Treasury yields climbed as investors ramped up rate hike bets, while the dollar index held steady.

While gold is seen as an inflation hedge, it also contends with the greenback for safe-haven status. Reduced central bank stimulus and the prospect of interest rate hikes push government bond yields up, weighing on non-yielding bullion.

Other precious metals also dipped, with silver down 0.3 percent at $23.21 per ounce and platinum slipping 1.8 percent to $1,035.29. Palladium shed 3.3 percent to $2,005.07, its lowest in over a week.


New York makes registration mandatory for crypto lending platforms

New York makes registration mandatory for crypto lending platforms
Updated 24 min 6 sec ago

New York makes registration mandatory for crypto lending platforms

New York makes registration mandatory for crypto lending platforms
  • State’s attorney general directs unregistered outlets to cease operations

RIYADH: New York has made it mandatory on cyrptocurrency lending platforms to register with the Office of the Attorney General if they wish to operate in the state or offer their products to New Yorkers.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday said these steps are aimed to protect New York investors and markets from exploitation by high-risk virtual currency schemes.

The official also ordered the closure of two cryptocurrency lending platforms in New York and three other platforms were directed to provide information about their business.

“Cryptocurrency platforms must follow the law, just like everyone else,” James said.

The move comes weeks after the attorney general won a court order forcing the closure of cryptocurrency exchange Coinseed.

“My office is responsible for ensuring industry players do not take advantage of unsuspecting investors. We’ve already taken action against a number of crypto platforms and coins that engaged in fraud or that illegally operated in New York,” he said.