USU scientists developing tool to predict mosquito resistance to insecticides

LOGAN – Utah State University researchers are developing a tool that could help keep mosquito populations low while using less insecticide.

What happens, according to USU researcher Scott Bernhardt, is that mosquito abatement districts use strong insecticides to reduce the populations, but over time the disease transmitting insects become resistant.

Many different types of mosquitoes are kept in a USU lab where they are allowed to feed – often on the scientists themselves – and reproduce. After a number of generations, the mosquitoes begin to develop the resistance. The USU scientists are trying to stay one step ahead by developing a way to predict the pattern of resistance.

“Can we develop a diagnostic tool where we can go out natural field populations and say, “Hey these mosquitoes are starting to develop resistance to the type of chemical insecticide we are using. Can we change that insecticide to one where they are not resistant?” If you can remove that exposure they’ll become susceptible again.”

Development of such a tool is what abatement districts want to have happen. If resistance can be predicted, and even measured using a tool, the amount of insecticides used can be reduced. The abatement districts, according to Bernhardt, will know when “enough is enough.”

“The work that we are doing is actually work that can affect people in Cache County,” he said. “We want to be able to have effective insecticides but not use too many. There are environmental consequences to using too many insecticides.”

“This type of data we are collecting in this research is much broader than just Utah. Utah can benefit from it, but this more of an international approach.”

When it comes to mosquito-carried diseases, the issue comes down to a question of prevention vs. treatment.

“Those are two different approaches and the antiviral research group on campus takes that latter approach, where ‘If you get bit can we give you an antiviral or can we have a vaccine to where you don’t even get sick?’” Bernhardt said. “Whereas my research is more from the approach of ‘Can we just reduce that potential of ever coming into contact with mosquitoes?'”

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