Targeting pests can help nature friendly farming

Wire worm, cabbage stem beetle and pollen beetle – pests that strike fear in the hearts of farmers and put doubts in their minds when it comes to reducing insecticide inputs.

However, a new database of 19 insect genomes is now being used to help develop targeted crop protection. The data base, developed by Rothamstead Research, in conjunction with Syngenta and Bayer, aims to develop pest control approaches that will both overcome resistance and create more nature-friendly solutions.

Scientists working on the project hope their efforts will help in the development of products that are more species-specific and overcome the problem of resistance.

Non-chemical pest control methods may also be developed, such as manipulating insect behaviour; focusing on the genes that control how insects find mates and host plants and hence shepherd them away from crops.

The initiative will also help in the development of pesticides that are less likely to incite resistance evolving in their target species – a huge problem for farmers and often the reason for excessive pesticide use.

Rothamsted’s Professor Linda Field, one of the research leaders, spoke of ‘smarter farming, with less pesticide use’.

“Currently as much as a fifth of all crops are lost globally to pests, and this is predicted to increase to 25% under climate change,” she said.

‘Whilst non-chemical control methods can have some success in reducing crop losses, pesticides remain a necessary weapon in our fight against devastating crop losses and will so for the foreseeable future.’

By assembling these detailed genome ‘maps’ of annotated sequences, researchers say they will start to develop the next generation of pesticides – ones that very specifically target the pest whilst leaving other species unharmed.

All the pests included in the initiative are well known for attacking vitally important crops worldwide, including oilseeds, vegetables, cereals, fruits, beans, sugar and cotton.

Image courtesy:  Vinicius Bustamante on Unsplash