We have an urgent global challenge to deliver increased food production to support a growing worldwide population: the planet will need 60% more food by 2050. One of the biggest barriers to increased agricultural productivity comes from insect pests, which consume 10-20% of global crops annually. To deliver food security we must achieve efficient pest control that does not suffer the shortcomings of resistance evolution and ecological damage associated with traditional chemical insecticides. There is a significant emerging market using the fungal pathogens of insects to deliver ecologically sustainable crop protection.
The size of the biopesticide market has increased rapidly in recent years, and is predicted to reach nearly $7.7 billion by 2021. This growth is due to the increased stringency of chemical pesticide residue requirements, an increased awareness of biopesticide potential, the evolution of resistance to chemical insecticides in target pests, and the loss of chemical insecticides due to new regulatory requirements. As a result, biological control now plays a central role in the production of many greenhouse crops. However, as the use of biopesticides has increased, the industry has thus far largely ignored the possibility that with increasing use comes increased selection pressure of pest species to evolve biopesticide resistance . Unless we take steps to improve the evolutionary sustainability of UK horticulture, we risk tremendous economic and food production losses to inevitable outbreaks of resistant pests, not to mention the loss of biopesticide technology that now safeguards crops and permits avoiding the use of chemical insecticides. In order to maximise the value to biopesticides, we propose deploying a framework to pre-emptively implement a resistance management strategy against greenhouse pests, presenting an opportunity to learn from past insecticides failures and ensuring that existing and emerging biopesticide products are used more wisely.
In this application we propose a market survey to assess the correct way to commercialise a novel pre-emptive resistance management solution for fungal biopesticides used to control insect crop pests. We hold current BBSRC funding through grant BB/R022674/1 through the BBSRC-FAPESP joint pump-priming awards for AMR and insect pest resistance in livestock and agriculture. In BB/R022674/1 we worked on the global polyphagous crop pests Helicoverpa armigera and have delivered our promised proof-of-principle: applying multiple fungal biopesticide strains to insects feeding on multiple crop species over a spatial matrix in the agricultural landscape has the potential to arrest resistance evolution against these agents. This approach aims to preserve susceptibility and our pathfinder grant would enable us to re-purpose this resistance management strategy for commercial development in the UK glass house horticultural sector, where fungal biopesticide products are widely employed for insect pest control.