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Symposium honours Michael Elliott

Michael Elliott holding a model of the insecticide deltamethrin

Chemistry will continue to play a pivotal role in pest management strategies to combat herbivorous pests of food crops and control insect vectors of human pathogens such as malaria. Food security can no longer be taken for granted and the importance of chemistry in delivering this is vital in contributing to the doubling of the world food supply required in the coming century.

The challenge for chemists is to make chemistry available for this purpose and Michael Elliott, CBE, DSc, FRS (1924-2007), the principal chemist responsible for discovery and development of the pyrethroid insecticides, was such a man. To highlight his contribution and examine new aspects of pesticide science, the SCI’s BioResources Group held a symposium entitled ‘Future prospects for chemical insecticides: A symposium for Michael Elliott’ at the site of Elliot’s former laboratory at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK on 21 January 2010.

Michael Elliott was the principal chemist responsible for the discovery and development of modern synthetic pyrethroids. Based on the natural pyrethrins he prepared compounds with greater activity against insect pests based on steric and electronic considerations. By 1974, compounds including deltamethrin (the most active insecticide known at the time) were available with greater persistence, although still degraded by non-target microorganisms, and so suitable for agriculture. Even today the market for pyrethroids is worth over US$500m per annum. His discoveries earned him the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement twice.

This symposium brought together scientists from the many disciplines required to meet the challenges ahead. The day’s presentations looked at the history of chemical insecticide discovery, the challenges associated with insecticide resistance and potential future opportunities, before looking at novel developments and recent advances in the field.

Dr Tony Hooper, Rothamsted Research and SCI BioResources Interest Group Committee

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