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Recombinant bacteria protect fruit flies from malathion.
Organophosphate (OP) insecticides, including parathion and malathion, inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, thereby causing over-accumulation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. OPs account for 30% of pesticide sales worldwide. Over 200,000 people, mostly farm workers, die each year from over-exposure. The OP malathion is the most common insecticide contaminant of livestock feed in the U.S. Here we show that Escherichia coli that express artificially evolved enzymes protect a model animal, Drosophila melanogaster, from otherwise toxic doses of malathion. This result is significant because the strategy could be extended to protect pollinating insects, livestock and farm workers from malathion. More generally, these results suggest that enzymes that bioremediate toxinscan be applied without purification as long as they are expressed in environmentally benign hosts.