Dong and team are refining pesticides to kill pests, not bees

Researchers publish insights for improving pyrethroids to protect bees.

Ke Dong

Pyrethroid pesticides are effective. Sometimes too effective. Ke Dong of Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology and her team have unlocked a key to maintain the insecticide’s effectiveness in eliminating pests without killing beneficial insects, such as bees. The study, featured in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that molecular tweaks can make the difference.

Pyrethroids target the voltage-gated sodium channel, a protein found in nerve and muscle cells used for rapid electrical signaling. Pyrethroids basically work by binding to the voltage gate of the sodium channel and prevent it from closing. The nervous system becomes over-stimulated and the insect is killed. These pesticides, however, don’t have the same effect on humans, or other mammals for that matter.

“For the first time we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels,” Dong said. “This opens the possibility of designing new chemicals that target sodium channels of pests but spare bees.”

Read the story at MSU Today: Refining pesticides to kill pests, not bees

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