Research Highlight

Pesticide exposure may increase risk of diabetes

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.14 Published online 31 January 2017

Exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides may increase the risk of diabetes1, a new study by biologists at the Madurai Kamaraj University has found, adding to growing epidemiological evidence around this link2.

In mice experiments, the researchers found that rodents fed on organophosphates (OP) for 180 days exhibited a steady increase in blood glucose levels compared to controls. The pesticide got decomposed by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids, particularly ascetic acid, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and glucose intolerance.

According to the scientists, a complete gene profiling of gut bacteria of mice exposed to OP shows that genes linked to OP degradation were highly expressed. 

The mice study was prompted by their finding that diabetes prevalence among Indian villagers, regularly exposed to insecticides, was three-fold higher than in unexposed people. The role of gut bacteria in mediating pesticide-induced diabetes was confirmed in humans with high level of acetate in the faeces of diabetics.


1. Velmurugan, G. et al. Gut microbial degradation of organophosphate insecticides-induces glucose intolerance via gluconeogenesis. Genome Biol. 18 (2017) doi: 10.1186/s13059-016-1134-6

2. Evangelou, E. et al. Exposure to pesticides and diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ. Int. 91, 60-68 (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.02.013