The Royal Society

Food for all and the threat of resistance

Posted by on 20 July 2011

By Dr Chris Bass, Rothamsted Research

Producing sufficient food for an expanding global population is a challenging task. Damage by pests, such as insects, pathogens and weeds threatens food security.

Pesticides have been used for thousands of years by man to minimise damage to our crops and it has been estimated that up to 40% of crop yield would be lost annually without effective and reliable means of crop protection. Despite many years of research on alternative methods of control, pesticides retain a vital role in securing global food production and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future if we wish to feed an ever growing population. Unfortunately, most currently available classes of pesticides have their efficacy threatened by the evolution of resistant pests (Superpests). A major part of our research aims to identify the genetic changes that cause resistance to pesticides. The methods that pests evolve to defend themselves from these chemicals are called ‘resistance mechanisms’. This knowledge can be used to develop strategies that prevent or overcome resistance.

Our exhibit entitled Combating the Superpests: the battle to save our food describes work at Rothamsted Research to understand the development and causes of resistance to pesticides. Watch the following video of Dr Kevin Gorman to find out more.