Can we really design an insecticide that gets around the evolution of resistance?

Check out this paper in PLoS biology today on how to make an evolution-proof insecticide against malaria-bearing mosquitos.

The trick, argue the authors, is to design a pesticide that kills only older mosquitos, avoiding strong selection for resistance:

Our argument derives from the following observations. First, female mosquitoes convert a blood meal into eggs and oviposit in appropriate water bodies before seeking the next blood meal. This gonotrophic cycle takes 2–4 d [41,42]. Females contact insecticides on bed nets during feeding attempts, or on house walls while resting immediately after the feed. Second, extrinsic mortality rates for the key vector species, even in the absence of any public health measures, are very high—on the order of 10% per day or 20–40% per gonotrophic cycle [41,42]. The consequence is that most females go through only a few gonotrophic cycles before they die. Third, after infecting mosquitoes, malaria parasites go through various developmental stages and very many replicative cycles before migrating to the salivary glands, from where they can be transmitted to humans. The duration of this process (the sporogonic or extrinsic incubation period) depends on host, parasite, and environmental factors, but it is in the order of 10–14 d or 2–6 gonotrophic cycles in areas of high malaria transmission [41,42]. These facts together lead to one of the great ironies of malaria: most mosquitoes do not live long enough to transmit the disease.

These facts also mean that the majority of eggs a female will produce in her lifetime are laid in the window before malaria-infected mosquitoes can become dangerous to humans. Thus, in principle at least, public health advances can be achieved with minimal selection for resistance by an insecticide that kills after the majority of mosquito reproduction has occurred but before malaria parasites are infectious. Unlike in agriculture, the aim here is disease control, not necessarily insect control.

When you combine this argument with the fact that the evolution of resistance usually causes a fitness penalty in the absence of pesticide (in other words, resistance involves design compromises), you have a strategy for getting around evolution. Maybe. Evolution is pretty damn clever, but I would love to see this proposal put into practice.