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Combating Superpests: The Battle To Save Our Food

11 July 2011

Scientists from Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, are presenting their research at the Royal Society's annual Summer Science Exhibition which opened yesterday with the display "Combating the superpests: the battle to save our food".

The exhibit will show how scientists are finding ways to combat the evolution of resistance to pesticides in crop pests. Successfully and sustainably managing pests will be essential to global food security, ensuring that we can meet the challenges of providing the world's growing population with a sustainable, secure supply of good quality food from less land and with lower inputs.

Science associated with changes in agricultural practices over the last 50 years has been the cornerstone of increases in global crop production. However, pests, diseases and weeds continue to impact on quantity and quality of crop products worldwide. It has been estimated that up to 40% of crop yield would be lost annually without effective and reliable means of crop protection.

Most currently available classes of pesticides have their effectiveness threatened by the evolution of resistance in their target pests. Scientists at Rothamsted Research are leading work to understand the development and causes of this differential sensitivity to pesticides. This will both inform the management of resistance to existing classes of chemicals, and aid design of new active ingredients less affected by the mutations underlying resistance.

Researcher Dr Ian Denholm says: ""Our battle to save crops from diseases and insect attack is not as one-sided as people might assume. In the same way that human pathogens develop resistance to anti-microbial drugs, crop pests and pathogens fight back by evolving resistance to pesticides. The need to understand and combat resistance is at the forefront of meeting challenges posed by a growing population and a changing climate".

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said "Pests love to eat crops, and without modern pesticides, crop yields would be considerably lower. Pests becoming resistant to pesticides is a serious threat to global food security. The ‘Combating the Superpests' exhibit is an excellent way to engage the public with the issues around feeding a growing world population sustainably and with the research taking place in the UK to address this global challenge."

The scientists will be on hand at the exhibition which runs from 5 to 10 July, to talk to visitors about their research which ranges from molecular diagnostics of pesticide resistance in insects, fungi, and weeds, to studies of the underlying mechanisms, and the evolution of resistance in pest populations.

TheCropSite News Desk

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