Scientists seeking a better way to put the bite on mosquitoes

CFAES scientist Peter Piermarini believes there’s a new, biological way to combat the mosquitoes that transmit Zika, dengue and other diseases: make them unable to pee.

Piermarini and his collaborators at Vanderbilt and Cornell universities are looking at ways to disrupt the mosquitoes’ Malpighian tubules, which are the equivalent of human kidneys.

“Female mosquitoes rely on their ‘kidneys’ when consuming a human blood meal,” said Piermarini, an associate professor in the Department of Entomology. “They may ingest the equivalent of their own body mass in blood, so they need to immediately get rid of the excess fluid they consume. They achieve this by urinating on their host while they are still feeding.”

As a result, he said, mosquitoes with impaired kidney function would be less likely to escape the human host they are feeding on and survive the ingestion of blood.

Piermarini’s team has previously identified a chemical that compromises a mosquito’s ability to excrete urine. The scientists also recently reported the discovery of 4,000 genes in the Malpighian tubules of the Asian tiger mosquito, which are affected when the insect feeds on blood.

“Our findings reveal potentially important molecular targets for the development of chemical or gene-silencing insecticides.”—Peter Piermarini

Growing resistance to current methods

  • Piermarini said existing control measures for mosquitoes are being challenged by the emergence of resistance to conventional insecticides that target the mosquito nervous system.
  • So there’s a growing need, he said, to identify novel physiological targets to guide the development of new insecticides.
  • To contact the scientist: Peter Piermarini at

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Photo courtesy MaLisa Spring, Graduate Research Fellow, Agricultural Landscape Ecology Lab, Department of Entomology, CFAES.