A gene to landscape approach to deliver more targeted and sustainable control of insect pests, weeds and diseases in agroecosystems.



Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 14:30


3 years


Sustainable and evolution-smart crop protection is critical to secure and maintain crop productivity. Pesticide-dominated control strategies are threatened by the widespread evolution of resistance in many major crop pests, whilst regulation to limit the unintended environmental and human health impacts of pesticides is reducing control options. There is an urgent need for innovation in crop protection.

The Smart Crop Protection programme is designed to address these challenges by bringing the latest technology to bear on improved detection, monitoring, prediction and control of biotic threats. We focus on understanding the mechanisms, genetics, ecology, evolution and management of crop-pest interactions. The SCP programme will develop crop protection strategies that enable more targeted interventions, using a systems-based approach that integrates chemical, genetic and agroecological approaches. The programme has a vision to reduce pesticide use, limit evolution of pesticide resistance and to design integrated and evidence based approaches that deliver innovation in crop protection, limit unintended negative environmental impacts and secure the long-term productivity of agroecosystems.


Rothamsted’s approach to Smart Crop Protection

Our vision for Smart Crop Protection rests on seven key principles:

  1. Pesticide-dominated crop protection strategies are prone to evolution of resistance
  2. Next-generation crop protection needs new tools and novel interventions
  3. Pests, weeds and pathogens will adapt to all interventions. Smart Crop Protection is ‘evolution-smart’
  4. A systems-approach integrating genetic, chemical, biological, ecological and agronomic interventions
  5. More targeted delivery of crop protection using new technologies to provide a step-change in monitoring and surveillance
  6. Improved monitoring and surveillance will deliver evidence-based crop protection
  7. Smart Crop Protection minimises trade-offs between production, sustainability and environmental objectives

The programme has three main work packages:

Work Package 1 - Smart Surveillance of Pests, Weeds and Diseases (Leader: James Bell) 

A step-change in crop protection decision-making is possible via the development of smart surveillance technologies, exploiting advances in genomics, sensors, imaging, data visualisation and data science. Molecular diagnostics are being developed to track the presence, distribution and dispersal of biotic threats, enabling early identification of the most economically-damaging pathogen, insect and weed genotypes. We are developing new applications for radar entomology targeting crop pests, portable suction- traps that include smart detection to identify insect pests during their migration phase. Increasing access to real-time data on pest occurrence and distribution is being used to develop predictive modelling frameworks, data visualisations and a dedicated data platform to realise our objective of evidence-based crop protection. We are exploring optimal solutions for the design and implementation of monitoring networks. 

Work Package 2 - Resisting resistance (Leader: Linda Field)

We are adopting a ‘gene to landscape’ approach to the evolution of pesticide resistance. Fundamental molecular genetic studies are elucidating the molecular changes underpinning resistance, informing the design of resistance diagnostics for monitoring and surveillance, and the discovery of next-generation chemistry that has fewer off-target impacts. Increased knowledge of resistance mechanisms provides greater traction in eco-evolutionary studies that aim to understand the relationship between genotype and phenotype, life history trade-offs, and the origin and dispersal of resistance traits. These studies will facilitate efforts to design strategies that aim to identify common principles for resistance management across insects, weeds and pathogens.

Work Package 3 - Next Generation Crop Protection (Leader: Michael Birkett)

We are addressing the challenge of providing a new generation of interventions against crop pests for sustainable intensification of agricultural systems. A ‘gene-to-landscape’ approach links fundamental chemical ecology-based studies, ie. discovery of small lipophilic molecule (SLM) pheromones and other semiochemicals (chemical signals) that modify pest behaviour/development of pests and act via non-toxic modes of action, to field testing of new chemical ecology-based interventions. Our hypothesis-driven science tackles the challenge of developing (i) smart plants for inclusion in sentinel-based cropping systems (ii) new interventions for managing root-zone (rhizosphere) pests, including black-grass, and (iii) developing strategies for overcoming pest resistance to semiochemicals. We are also exploring the potential for using new and highly innovative gene editing and gene drive technology in crop protection, focussing on the reversal of herbicide resistance in weed populations as an ‘in silico’ proof-of-concept.


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