Research Highlights

Kit to test insecticide resistance

Published online 22 November 2013

Sedeer El-Showk

Pyrethroids are potent insecticides used in everything from mosquito nets to bug spray. The emergence of insects' resistant to its deadly effects, however, threatens malaria control programmes in much of Africa and Asia. New chemical probes can now identify potential resistance early on.

Researchers including Hanafy Ismail of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Alexandria University, Egypt, have designed a set of probes that mimic pyrethroids. The probes stick to the insect enzymes that break them down and, thanks to a special chemical hook, can be retrieved for reuse.

The detection of enzymes that can break down pyrethroids and confer resistance should point to ways to supress the rise of pyretheroid resistance. "By knowing what genes confer resistance we may stay ahead of the game and do something sensible to stop it," says Mark Paine of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Paine and team also discovered that resistance involves more enzymes than had been thought, a so-called 'pyrethrome'. "[This] changes our perspective and means we are now looking more widely at the other enzymes and their potential for resistance monitoring and development of new insecticides."

The next step will be to test these probes against mosquitoes in the field, where it is hoped these findings might mark a major step forward in the fight against malaria. "This is a potential game changer in fighting resistance," says Paine.


  1. Ismail, H.F. et al. Pyrethroid activity-based probes for profiling cytochrome P450 activities associated with insecticide interactions. PNAS (2013) doi:10.1073/pnas.1320185110