Glyphosate inhibits melanization and increases susceptibility to infection in insects

Daniel F.Q. Smith, Emma Camacho, Raviraj Thakur, Alexander J. Barron, Yuemei Dong, George Dimopoulos, Nichole A. Broderick, Arturo Casadevall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Melanin, a black-brown pigment found throughout all kingdoms of life, has diverse biological functions including UV protection, thermoregulation, oxidant scavenging, arthropod immunity, and microbial virulence. Given melanin’s broad roles in the biosphere, particularly in insect immune defenses, it is important to understand how exposure to ubiquitous environmental contaminants affects melanization. Glyphosate—the most widely used herbicide globally—inhibits melanin production, which could have wide-ranging implications in the health of many organisms, including insects. Here, we demonstrate that glyphosate has deleterious effects on insect health in 2 evolutionary distant species, Galleria mellonella (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) and Anopheles gambiae (Diptera: Culicidae), suggesting a broad effect in insects. Glyphosate reduced survival of G. mellonella caterpillars following infection with the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans and decreased the size of melanized nodules formed in hemolymph, which normally help eliminate infection. Glyphosate also increased the burden of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum in A. gambiae mosquitoes, altered uninfected mosquito survival, and perturbed the microbial composition of adult mosquito midguts. Our results show that glyphosate’s mechanism of melanin inhibition involves antioxidant synergy and disruption of the reaction oxidation–reduction balance. Overall, these findings suggest that glyphosate’s environmental accumulation could render insects more susceptible to microbial pathogens due to melanin inhibition, immune impairment, and perturbations in microbiota composition, potentially contributing to declines in insect populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3001182
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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