Mosquitoes Fight Pesticides; Auburn Punches Back

Business, General Jun 24, 2010

Evolving Pesticides for the Evolving Pests

Mosquitoes. Everyone knows they’re annoying, but did you know they’re also deadly? The American Mosquito Control Association estimates that every year, more than a million people die from mosquito-borne diseases.

And it’s going to get worse. We’ve been spraying insecticides in massive amounts across the globe, but we can’t do that forever. Mosquitoes are becoming genetically resistant to our insecticides. The poison just doesn’t work well anymore.

So we could get into a cycle where we create different insecticides until those lose their efficacy—and in the meantime, who knows what environmental havoc we’d wreak—but Auburn toxicologist Nannan Liu has a better idea.

“When I first encountered this phenomenon, I was fascinated by the ability of these little creatures to rapidly develop a tolerance to insecticide application,” says Liu. “I’m trying to unravel the mystery behind this ability.”

Liu identified several genes in mosquitoes that decrease their sensitivity to insecticides. Along the way, she discovered that the insects have the “extraordinary ability” to marshal the complex systems that control their own genes.

“Our study on mosquito resistance is expected to be the first step in the development of new strategies for controlling not only mosquitoes, but also other agriculturally, medically and economically important insect pests,” says Liu.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Nannan Liu

My research goals are to conduct research on: (1) the physiological and molecular mechanisms involved in insecticide resistance of medically important insects, including mosquitoes, house flies, and German cockroaches; (2) the molecular basis of gene regulation; (3) functional analysis of the genes involved in resistance and genetic manipulation of resistance genes; and (4) genes and their physiological functions in insect development, reproduction, and polyphenisms. The overall goal of my research is to improve management of medically and agriculturally important insects.

For more on Dr. Liu’s research, visit her Web site.

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