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University of Greenwich awarded prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize

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Natural Resources Institute's work developing smart solutions to tackle pests recognised at St James's Palace

The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich has been awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education for tackling pests which cause plague, famine and disease.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Javier Bonet, and the Director of NRI, Professor Andrew Westby, attended an event at St James's Palace last night, where the prizes were officially announced.

The prestigious award, which celebrates excellence and innovation in UK universities, was given for the Institute's ground-breaking work to find smart solutions for pest control that have an impact on human, animal and plant health, especially in the developing world.

The NRI's pest management programme looks specifically at four key areas, including blackfly transmitting 'river blindness'; rodents spreading disease and destroying crops and infrastructure; mosquitoes transmitting dangerous diseases including malaria, dengue and Zika; and insect pests threatening the horticulture industry.

The NRI's work on blackfly contributed to the elimination of river blindness in eleven countries in West Africa, preventing 600,000 people from becoming blind and re-claiming 250,000 km2 of abandoned land for cultivation and resettlement.

With malaria affecting over 200 million people every year, the NRI developed the innovative 'Host Decoy Trap' which exploits the blood-seeking behaviour of mosquitoes by mimicking the sensory stimuli that a mosquito follows when searching for a person to bite. The team incorporated these stimuli into a trap that lures mosquitoes towards it and then captures them when they land. Preliminary data shows the trap catches up to ten times more malaria mosquitoes than current techniques and suggest a potential future role as an outdoor mosquito control tool.

The NRI first worked on managing pests at the beginning of the 20th century, conducting research and implementing a series of major pest management programmes and innovations, including work on locust plagues in Africa.

Over the past 50 years, it has built on this pioneering work, specialising in pest behaviour in order to design specific solutions to control them.

Director, Professor Westby said: "The Award of this Queen's Anniversary Prize recognises the NRI's world-leading work that balances pest control with protecting our environment. In line with the NRI's mission, our pest management work is focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, with particular emphasis on promoting sustainable agriculture and climate action, reducing hunger, achieving food and nutrition security, and ensuring health and wellbeing.

"The NRI's combination of academic excellence and practical application supports our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes where our students learn to become future leaders in the field."

Professor David Maguire, Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, said: "This is a fantastic achievement and the whole university community is proud of this honour. It reflects once more that the Natural Resources Institute is a world-leader and is undertaking work which is addressing real problems and saving lives.

"It is particularly fitting that this award, the third Queen's Anniversary Prize which the NRI has received, is being given during the institute's 125th year. I am delighted that the excellent research and partnership work which spans many partners and countries has been recognised in this way."

The formal prize presentation ceremony will take place at Buckingham Palace in the new year.

For more information about the work behind the prize go to https://smartpestcontrol.nri.org/ and for more about the awards visit the Royal Anniversary Trust.