Urine for a surprise at possible beetle treatment


May 12, 2021

A red flour beetle adult and larvae, as seen in ground corn. PHOTO: COURTESY OF, AND COPYRIGHTED BY, GENE WHITE, PMIMAGES@EARTHLINK.NET

A red flour beetle adult and larvae, as seen in ground corn. PHOTO: COURTESY OF, AND COPYRIGHTED BY, GENE WHITE, PMIMAGES@EARTHLINK.NET

I’d say the headline that the EurekaAlert news team created for the news release says it all: “Beetles that pee themselves to death could be tomorrow’s pest control.”

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark used the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) as their test subject of how to use a beetle’s kidney functions against it. This species was chosen not only because it commonly attacks agricultural crops (and in our industry, found frequently in industrial food accounts), but “because it has a well-sequenced genome that allows for the deployment of a wide spectrum of genetic and molecular biology tools.” Also, per the release:

  • The researchers got the beetle to urinate by injecting a hormone that scientists now know regulates urine formation in beetles.
  • Up to 25 percent of global food production is lost annually due to insects, primarily beetles.
  • The study demonstrates that beetles regulate their kidney function in a fundamentally different way than all other insects. These differences can potentially be exploited to fatally disrupt the fluid balance of beetles without impacting other insects.
  • The research data reports that this unique kidney function evolved about 240 million years ago, and that the mechanism has played a significant role in the extraordinary evolutionary triumph of beetles.
  • Ancient Egyptians already knew to mix pebbles in grain stores to fight these pests. (“Never mind that they chipped an occasional tooth on the pebbles, the Egyptians could see that the scratches killed some of the beetles due to the fluid loss caused by damage to the waxy layer. However, they lacked the physiological knowledge that we have now,” says Dr. Kenneth Veland Halberg, one of the study’s researchers.)

The study was done in collaboration with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Dr. Halberg noted that the study strengthens the team’s knowledge in “which hormones regulate urine formation, (which) opens up the development of compounds similar to beetle hormones.” If researchers can harness that knowledge, they can cause a beetle to form so much urine that it dies of dehydration. Such targeted treatment could be common sooner than we might think.

The study was published in the April 2021 issue of the


About the Author

Heather Gooch

Heather Gooch is the editor-in-chief for PMP magazine. She can be reached at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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