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Dr Elaine Fitches


Professor in the Department of Biosciences


Research Interests

Crop protection against insect attack is increasingly threatened by the withdrawal of chemical pesticides from the market, a shortage of new actives, and the widespread development of multiple forms of resistance.  I believe that the development of biopesticides derived from natural sources is key to reducing the adverse effects of chemical pesticides upon human health, ecosystems, and biodiversity.  My principal research interests lie in the development of novel protein-based approaches for the control of insect pests. Many naturally occurring venom peptides are highly potent to invertebrate pests when injected, but ineffective when delivered orally as their targets for action lie within the central nervous system (CNS). Our group has pioneered the development of an innovative delivery platform that converts insecticidal peptides into orally and topically effective biopesticides. Fusion protein technology exploits the ability of a “carrier” protein to transport fused toxins across the insect gut and thereby “deliver” them to the circulatory system where they can access target sites of action within the nervous system. The carrier also binds to the insect CNS and recent studies have demonstrated significantly enhanced contact activity of fusion proteins as compared to toxins alone.  Research in our lab focusses on the use of A.I. to design fusion protein expression constructs, and subsequently to produce recombinant toxins and fusion protein prototypes using a yeast-based bench-top fermentation system. We also carry out a range of lab-based insect bioassays to evaluate the efficacy of our FPs against both pest and beneficial insects.  We are currently working with industry to drive the commercialisation of this approach.

I have also been involved for > 12 years in various research projects that have explored the potential use of insects as a source of nutrition for feed and food, and as a means of reducing volumes of waste in line with a circular bioeconomy approach.  Insect farming is an expanding industry offering opportunities to both enhance the sustainability of livestock production and to support crop and soil health via the application of residues that remain from the insect rearing process as biofertilisers.


Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article


Supervision students