The €7 million effort, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 fund, will focus on creating “smart” alternatives to traditional insecticides targeting moths, locusts, aphids, flies, and beetles.
In place of the old approach of trying to annihilate insect populations with toxic chemicals—which often has unwanted environmental and health effects—the scientists will be intervening much more precisely in insects’ physiologies or even psychologies.
The project will focus on neuropeptides – small protein-like molecules that help insects’ brains and tissues communicate with each other. By developing artificial molecules to mimic these molecules they plan to turn the pest insects’ own hormones against them by altering their behaviour or physiology.
The scientists will be exploring different ways of influencing these systems in order to impair the insects’ ability to inflict damage, including:
The economic cost of pests is extremely difficult to estimate but biological threats such as insects and disease account for around 40% of all crop losses globally. By 2017, the world is expected to spend more than $65 billion annually on pesticides.
The project, called nEUROSTRESSPEP, is led by the University of Glasgow and involves Leeds, The Scottish Government, Forest Research, The Pirbright Institute, Oxitec Ltd, Knowledge Transfer Network Ltd, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Universitat Gent, The Agricultural Research Organisation of Israel, Stockholms Universitiet, Universitaet Zu Koeln, the University of Cape Town, and Bruker Daltonik GmbH.
Professor Isaac is an authority on insect peptides and has previously worked with the US Department of Agriculture to rationally design peptides that are active in insects. He will help identify appropriate targets to disrupt development and reproduction in pest species and help design and develop of metabolically stable peptide analogues that can survive degradation in the environment and in the body of the insect pest.
He said: “The ultimate objective of the project is to promote food safety and sustainable agriculture. Neuropeptide-based insect control agents will be much more precisely targeted than traditional insecticides and should be greener.”
The project, funded through Horizon 2020 – the EU’s research and innovation fund – will get underway in June and run for four years.
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £2,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792