Rooted in Resilience: The Future of Pest-Resistant Crops

Sunlight illuminating crops growing in a field

Farmers everywhere strive to protect their crops and ensure a stable food supply while minimizing environmental harm. A promising approach to achieving this leverages a plant’s built-in defense mechanisms, reducing the need for chemical interventions. Many geneticists and agronomists lean on technologies that can automate and streamline nucleic acid extraction and pathogen detection to identify naturally pest resistant crops and, ultimately, keep up with the changing agricultural landscape.  

The Pest Problem

The presence of pests can trigger a cascade of challenges for farmers, requiring vigilant monitoring and management strategies to protect their livelihoods and the food supply chain. Pests—ranging from fungal diseases to insects to weeds—can attack plants in various ways. For example, the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) feeds on leaves, leaving behind a skeletonized version of the former plant11. Similarly, root-knot nematodes infiltrate the soil microbiome and cause damage to plant roots, disrupting water absorption and nutrient transport2. The variety of pests that target plants and their strategies for inflicting damage appear almost infinite and can cause significant impacts to the health and productivity of crops globally. 

Consequently, managing pests is a priority in agricultural research, aiming to minimize pest impact and ensure that crops reach their full potential in both yield and quality. The traditional reliance on chemical pesticides to eradicate pests has led to various environmental and health issues, including pollution and the pests that have developed resistance to pesticides. The good news: crops are fighting back. With the power of natural selection, crops are becoming more resistant to pests. Cultivating naturally resistant crops has emerged as a crucial alternative to pesticide use, offering a way to safeguard yields while protecting the environment3.

Development & Maintenance of Pest-Resistant Crops

Automated and efficient research tools are required to both identify pests and determine the molecular profile of crops that are naturally resistant to pests. Pests are an evolving threat that will continue to challenge crop health and agricultural productivity. There are many tools on the market for pathogen detection and DNA extraction from plant material. Promega offers several qPCR and RT-qPCR products for detection and amplification of target sequences of plant pathogens to accurately diagnose plant diseases. Additionally, Promega developed the Maxwell® RSC Instrument which researchers can pair with qPCR/RT-qPCR reagents to help researchers pinpoint pathogens that target specific crops.

Additionally, the Maxwell® RSC Instrument processes multiple samples concurrently, enhancing efficiency in the pest/plant screening process, streamlining screening and nucleic acid extraction workflows. Then, extracted plant DNA is primed for various genetic analyses, including screening for natural pest resistance traits and identifying potential pest-resistant plant lines. Detailed genetic information allows for a more nuanced understanding of crop resistance at the molecular level, which is essential for the development of comprehensive pest management strategies.


The future of agriculture depends on sustainable pest management solutions. The ongoing refinement of pest-resistant crops is a testament to the collaborative effort between geneticists, agronomists, and farmers. Together, they are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in sustainable agriculture, ensuring that crops are not only more resilient to pests but also cultivated in a way that supports the health of the planet. This holistic approach to crop development and maintenance is vital for securing the future of food production in an increasingly uncertain world.  

  1. Schuh, M., Hahn, J., & Burkness, S. (2024). Colorado potato beetle. Extension Office of College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences. Colorado potato beetle | UMN Extension ↩︎
  2. Hussain, M. A., & Parveen, G. (2023). Determining the damage threshold of root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne arenaria on Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. Rhizosphere, 27, Article 100714. ↩︎
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, December 13). Factsheet on ecological risk assessment for pesticides. EPA. Factsheet on Ecological Risk Assessment for Pesticides | US EPA. ↩︎
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Anna Bennett

Anna Bennett

Anna earned her PhD in microbiology at the University of Minnesota in 2022 where she studied the microbial communities in hot springs. She joined Promega in 2023 as science writer within the Marketing Services department. When she's not writing, she enjoys being outdoors with her dog, Calvin.