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Combating the superpests: the battle to save our food

Visit  Rothamsted Research website

5 July 2011

Scientists from Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), are presenting their research at the Royal Society's annual Summer Science Exhibition which opens today (5 July 2011) with the display "Combating the superpests: the battle to save our food".

Peach-potato aphid, Myzus persicae. Image: Rothamsted Research

Peach-potato aphid, Myzus persicae.
Image: Rothamsted Research

The Rothamsted Research 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.

"Combating the superpests: the battle to save our food". Image: Rothamsted Research

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.


Notes to editors

  1. A press preview will take place between 3pm - 5pm on Monday 4 July. Please contact the Royal Society press office to make arrangements to attend this
  2. Images available on request
  3. General info: The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition showcases cutting edge research in science and engineering from across the UK. It is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science. Follow the Summer Science Exhibition on Twitter at the hashtag #SSE2011
  4. Exhibition opening times: The Exhibition is located in the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5 AG and takes place from Tuesday 5 July to Sunday 10 July 2011. Open Tuesday 5 July 10am - 9pm, Wednesday 6 - Thursday 7 July 10am - 5pm, Friday 8 July 10am - 9pm, Saturday 9 July 10am - 6pm, Sunday 10 July 11am - 6pm. The event is free and open to the public. Further information can be found at

About The Royal Society

The Royal Society is the UK's national academy of science. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as a provider of independent scientific advice, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. Our expertise is embodied in the Fellowship, which is made up of the finest scientists from the UK and beyond. Our goals are to:

  • Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
  • Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
  • Invigorate science and mathematics education
  • Increase access to the best science internationally
  • Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery

For further information please visit Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at on Facebook at


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Nicola Kane, Press and Public Relations, The Royal Society

tel: 020 7451 2508