Date of release: Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fighting food pests - NRI £16m scheme David GrzywaczNew technology to protect food crops from destructive insect pests including caterpillars, sawflies and beetles is being developed by the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute.

The work forms part of a £16 million government scheme to improve global food production and security across the world.

Scientists from the Natural Resources Institute are working in partnership with Lancaster University to develop a novel biological pesticide formulation technology.

Crop pests, such as armyworm, bollworm and leafworm caterpillars, are responsible for serious damage to the world's food crops, causing billions of pounds of losses each year.

With increasing public and government concern over the environmental impact of chemical pesticides, many of these are being withdrawn, leaving farmers with fewer effective ways to control pests and prevent losses.

The search for alternatives to chemicals has grown rapidly in the last decade and insect viruses have been successfully developed as safe biological pesticides to control a number of pests. However, scientists now need to work out how to make them more cost-effective in the field.

David Grzywacz, a Principal Scientist for the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), has for many years researched insect viruses and worked with companies around the world to develop virus insecticides. He says: "To meet the new challenge of producing crops safely, we need a new generation of reliable, specific and environmentally friendly biological controls. Insect viruses are one such control that can be highly effective in controlling its target pests without killing other insects or wildlife.

"Current formulations are more expensive than most chemical pesticides, and have a short persistence once applied, so are not yet widely used. This initiative between academics and a UK company aims to develop novel formulations that will radically improve their reliability and cost effectiveness. This will in turn make them more attractive to farmers, so enabling them to play a greater role in UK and world agriculture."

This project is being led by Exosect Limited, a formulation technology company.

The government scheme sees 24 projects sharing £16 million of the UK's 'Agritech Catalyst' fund. Backing has been given to pioneering science and technology projects which will help solve what the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs calls "the world's greatest agricultural challenges – from food security and sustainability to weed control and livestock disease".

Part of the university's Faculty of Engineering & Science, NRI carries out world-class research and development in agriculture, climate change, foods and markets. It draws upon its international research and development work to underpin its taught MSc programmes in agricultural and food sciences, as well as undergraduate programmes in biology and environmental sciences.

NRI's achievements were honoured last year with a prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its work in Africa.

Story by Public Relations

Picture: Armyworms in Tanzania. Credit: Wilfred Mushobozi.