Innovative approach to tackling pesticide resistance evolution

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A new £620,000 study led by the University of Stirling is taking a “revolutionary approach” in attempting to tackle resistance to pesticides in insects.

Pesticide resistance is a serious problem for the agriculture industry worldwide, with pests consuming between 10 and 20 percent of all global crops while growing or in storage.

The study will focus on Brazil, where the agricultural economy loses approximately $17.7 billion (£13.6 billion) a year to outbreaks of insects and other arthropod pests in crops. The country’s agricultural sector heavily relies on widespread pesticide application, which has led to the evolution of pesticide resistance in several significant pests.

The team – led by Principal Investigators Dr Luc Bussière, of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, and Ricardo Polanczyk, of São Paulo State University (UNESP) Jaboticabal – are attempting to tackle the problem by studying interactions between insects and fungal pathogens that are used as biopesticides to control crop pests.

Dr Bussière said: “Widespread pesticide application – and pesticide resistance in pests – can undermine the sustainability of important crop pest control technologies, reduce associated economic returns, and exacerbate the risks to economic productions and food security.

“Traditional insecticide resistance management tries to prevent insect evolution, but our revolutionary approach promises sustainable control, while accounting for local evolution of insect pests.”

Luc Bussiere

Dr Luc Bussière, from the University of Stirling, will co-lead the project.

Insecticide resistance evolution occurs when a single control agent – or pesticide – is applied over a broad area and consistent evolutionary pressures drive rare resistance genes to spread rapidly through the pest population.

The new project – Enhancing Diversity to Overcome Resistance Evolution (ENDORSE) – is investigating the use of multiple fungal biopesticides across agricultural landscapes so that selection for resistance varies in different locations – preventing a uniform evolutionary response.

In natural environments, both insect species and their pathogens are genetically variable and few individuals have genes to resist any particular pathogen. The project is inspired by this fact and seeks to make the agricultural landscape more diverse, so that the pressures favouring resistance evolution are temporally and spatially variable. This could allow us to use the next generation of biopesticides for many years without consistent resistance evolution.

The team will also consider the suitability of fungal biopesticides for industrial scale production and field application in Brazil, and provide the industry with innovative solutions for crop protection, including improved delivery systems, higher pest control consistency and enhanced performance under field conditions.

In addition, the study will identify the barriers preventing the uptake of these new pest control technologies and research methods to encourage farmer behavioural change. The research will also provide economic and social science data to underpin policy recommendations regarding incentive schemes, publicity campaigns and marketing strategies.

Dr Bussière and Dr Polanczyk are supported by Matt Tinsley, Rosie Mangan, Brad Duthie and Nils Bunnefeld, all from the University of Stirling; as well as Belinda Luke (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) UK), Leonardo Fraceto (UNESP Sorocaba), Renata de Lima (Sorocaba University), Yelitza Colmenarez (CABI Brazil), and Natália Corniani (CABI Brazil).

The study is jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the São Paulo Research Foundation, and the Newton Fund.

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