Research team aims to break pests’ resistance to insecticides

Dr Liliya Serazetdinova at the Adapt Low Carbon Group, UEA

Dr Liliya Serazetdinova at the Adapt Low Carbon Group, UEA - Credit: Submitted

East Anglian expertise will be at the heart of a ground-breaking £300,000 project to find ways to defeat crop pests' resistance to insecticides.

The Adapt Low Carbon Group, an innovation management consultancy and investor based at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is part of a partnership that has won a £220,000 grant from government funding body Innovate UK.

The goal is to develop a natural compound which can enhance the effectiveness of traditional insecticides by reducing pests' resistance to them – potentially reducing the levels of synthetic chemicals which need to be applied in agriculture and horticulture.

The anticipated environmental benefit is a key driver for the project, which is being run in partnership with Cambridge-based agricultural sciences company AlphaBio Control, and researchers at the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and ApresLabs.

In Norfolk, Adapt will investigate market demand and undertake an economic analysis of the new prototype which the group hopes will lead to a successful commercial launch.

Dr Liliya Serazetdinova, who leads Adapt's biorenewables team, said: 'With the impact of the new EU regulations now having a real effect on the sector, it's timely to embrace this as an opportunity to develop new products and also invest in innovative ideas.

'There's increased pressure to minimise the amount of pesticides used in agriculture and to reduce soil and water contamination. The industry has spent decades researching more sustainable ways to control pests yet remains heavily reliant on synthetic insecticides. The combination of a decline in the number of active ingredients available to growers and the increased development of resistance, requires the agrochemical industry to come up with sustainable solutions rapidly that will be effective as well as environmentally friendly.'

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By the end of the 18-month project, Dr Serazetdinova said the research team hopes to have developed a prototype, extracted from natural agricultural by-products and backed up with scientific justification for its use, which could be ready for commercial sale within five years. Meanwhile, the UEA is also involved in another project which has won a £508,044 grant from the £70m Agri-Tech Catalyst fund, run by Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

With the threat of stricter EU controls on crop protection, farmers say the potential loss of chemical pesticides poses a substantial threat to the production of crops including potatoes.

The £936,575 project, in partnership with ECOspray Ltd and Target Set Technology Ltd, aims to develop 'side-ridge injection technologies' for under-soil delivery of garlic-derived 'environmentally benign' pesticide treatments to tackle the threat of potato cyst nematode (PCN).