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Understanding the challenge of resistance in agriculture

Copyright: Thinkstock

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 25 January 2017 - 27 April 2017

Funded through responsive mode


The emergence and spread of resistance to chemical agents used for countering pathogens or pests is a matter of growing concern, particularly the evolution of so-called “superbugs”, resistant to multiple antibacterial agents. These have attracted considerable attention from scientists, policy-makers and the media, but the problem is much broader. Agriculture faces challenges from resistance to antibacterial agents, as well as to a wide range of other agents used in crop protection or veterinary practice, including many classes of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and anti-parasitic compounds.

The productivity and quality of crops, and the health and welfare of farmed animals, are maintained by the use of chemical agents for preventing and treating infections by pathogens or infestations by pests. Without such agents, crop losses and waste would be greater and animal health would be compromised, with implications also for food safety. However, resistance amongst their target organisms is increasingly frequent and widespread. Examples with major consequences for crop production include resistances to multiple classes of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, respectively, in the wheat pathogen Septoria tritici, the arable weed Alopecurus myosuroides, and the aphid Myzus persicae. In livestock farming, similar situations exist with resistance to agents used for the management of endo- or ectoparasites.

Resistance to many existing products is exacerbated by a dearth of new agents coming to market. It is compounded by regulatory requirements, including changes that have already resulted in the withdrawal or restricted use of some agents, and are likely to further reduce the range permitted in future. As the variety of available agents reduces, the more likely it is that pathogens or pests will develop resistance to the fewer remaining types as greater use is made of them. This highlight aims to inform interventions for countering resistance that would help to enhance the effectiveness and extend the lifetime of existing products, or optimise the future use of new ones, by delaying its development.

Antibacterial resistance and its associated threat to human health has a high profile, and relevant research is being funded by a number of UK agencies, including BBSRC. The Council’s support for that area includes both a responsive-mode priority in Combatting Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) (see related links), and partnership in a cross-Research Council thematic programme in Tackling AMR (see external links). We are now seeking to encourage research to address the broader issue of resistance to other types of chemicals used in crop protection or veterinary practice.


The aim of this highlight call is to stimulate innovative research to understand and help address the development in weeds, pests, parasites or pathogens of resistance to agents used for countering them, by:

  • raising the profile amongst the broader research community of the impact of resistance on agriculture and the scientific challenges it presents
  • encouraging new scientific approaches to address the practical problems for agriculture of resistance to all kinds of pesticides
  • promoting collaboration between researchers with existing interests in resistance and others with wider relevant expertise in underpinning science
  • stimulating innovative research to understand resistance and inform interventions for enhancing the effectiveness of existing products and optimising the use of new ones
  • focusing on the molecular mechanisms of resistance, its evolutionary drivers and the ecological processes involved in its emergence and spread
  • encouraging generic and comparative (including theoretical and modelling) “one health” approaches, and drawing on learning from other systems in which resistance is better understood


This highlight call is for innovative research to understand and help counter the challenge of the development and spread of resistance of pests, weeds, parasites or pathogens to chemical agents used for countering them in agriculture. It includes research to understand and address the emergence and spread of resistance to agents used for countering all types of agriculturally relevant pests or pathogens (collectively “pests”), including weeds, invertebrate pests or disease vectors, helminth or arthropod parasites, and rodents, as well as fungi, protozoa and other relevant microbes.

For the purpose of this highlight, agriculture comprises arable, horticultural and non-food crops (for energy, materials or chemical feedstocks), forestry and farmed animals (livestock, poultry, aquacultural species, managed bees and horses, but not companion animals). It includes both pre-harvest and post-harvest aspects, covering pest and pathogen threats to stored products as well as those to crops during production. The emphasis is primarily on UK agriculture, but research is also encouraged which would generate knowledge with potential for wider application overseas, particularly innovations that would benefit farmers in developing countries.

The highlight covers resistance to all kinds of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, anti-parasitic and (subject to the exclusion below) other antimicrobial agents of agricultural relevance (collectively “pesticides”), including products of biological origin (e.g. biopesticides and compounds produced naturally by plants), as well as agents manufactured by chemical synthesis. It does not include studies of the resistance of plant or animal hosts to pests or pathogens, or the breeding of resistant varieties of crops or farmed animals. Research with the primary aim of developing potential new control agents is also excluded.

This highlight (but not BBSRC’s wider responsive-mode remit) excludes proposals focused solely on the molecular mechanisms of resistance to antibacterial agents, but does cover their inclusion in comparative studies of the conservation of resistance mechanisms in different types of organisms. It also includes research using antibacterial resistance as a system to elucidate general principles of the evolution or ecology of resistance.

The highlight focuses on understanding the molecular and physiological mechanisms of pesticide resistance, and the evolutionary drivers and ecological principles of its development. That knowledge might subsequently be used to inform new interventions or strategies for preventing, delaying or managing its emergence and spread. It does not include applied studies of approaches for counteracting resistance in the field without associated research to understand the scientific basis of potential new agronomic practices.

The development of functional biomarkers of resistance is included, but only in the context of wider proposals that aim to use them as a means of obtaining deeper scientific understanding. Proposals concerned with the identification of biomarkers only for routine diagnostic use are excluded from this highlight.

Multidisciplinary projects that bring together chemical biology investigations of molecular mechanisms with evolutionary, ecological or population biology studies are particularly encouraged; as are generic or comparative (including theoretical) “one health” approaches, particularly where they draw on learning from other systems in which resistance is better understood. The highlight is intended both to draw together different aspects of resistance research, and to stimulate interaction between scientists with existing interests in resistance and others who have wider, potentially relevant expertise.

In addition, the highlight covers comparative research to understand generic (“one health”) aspects of the development and transmission of resistance of broad relevance to plant, animal or, potentially, human health. Proposals must address aspects of agricultural relevance within our remit. Studies focused solely on resistance in pathogens or parasites of relevance only to human health, or on the transfer of resistance between their human hosts, are excluded from this call and are likely to be outside our remit.

Proposals with input from, or in collaboration with, industry would be welcomed, and the usual terms of BBSRC’s Industrial Partnership Awards (see related links) and “Stand-alone” LINK schemes (see related links) will apply.


Funding for this highlight is not ring-fenced; successful applications will be funded through our responsive mode mechanism. However, in the context of the standard responsive mode peer review, the strategic relevance of these applications will be considered in relation to the aims of this highlight.


Standard responsive mode eligibility, remit and funding rules apply. Please see the BBSRC Grants Guide for further information.

Please note that there have been some recent changes to the eligibility of some Independent Research Organisations. For more details, please see the Grants Guide.

How to apply

This call is closed to applications.

Intention to Submit form

Applicants should complete the Intention to Submit form and send it to by 29 March 2017, 4pm.

Responsive mode round

Applications should be made by 27 April 2017, 4pm via the Joint electronic Submission System (Je-S). No extensions to deadlines will be accepted. We recommend you submit well in advance of the application deadline.

Please follow the normal submission process for responsive mode calls and navigate to the Classifications Section on the left hand side, select ‘Highlight Areas’ and tick the box marked ‘Resistance Mechanisms’.

When submitting an application on Je-S please select the following categories:

Council: BBSRC
Document Type: Standard Proposal
Scheme: Responsive Mode
Call/Type/Mode: Responsive Mode - 27 April 2017
Please prefix the project title with "Resistance:".

General enquiries regarding Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.

Related calls: agriculture animal health animal welfare crops food genetics livestock microbes multidisciplinary pests plants responsive mode