There are a number of ways insects can become resistant to insecticidal crop protection and public health products:
Resistant insects may detoxify or destroy the toxin faster than susceptible insects, or quickly rid their bodies of the toxic molecules. Metabolic resistance is the most common mechanism and often presents the greatest challenge. Insects use their internal enzyme systems to break down insecticides. Resistant strains may possess higher levels or more efficient forms of these enzymes. In addition to being more efficient, these enzyme systems also may have a broad spectrum of activity (i.e., they can degrade many different insecticides).
The target site where the insecticide acts in the insect may be genetically modified to prevent the insecticide binding or interacting at its site of action thereby reducing or eliminating the pesticidal effect of the insecticide.
Resistant insects may absorb the toxin more slowly than susceptible insects. Penetration resistance occurs when the insect’s outer cuticle develops barriers which can slow absorption of the chemicals into their bodies. This can protect insects from a wide range of insecticides. Penetration resistance is frequently present along with other forms of resistance, and reduced penetration intensifies the effects of those other mechanisms.
Resistant insects may detect or recognize a danger and avoid the toxin. This mechanism of resistance has been reported for several classes of insecticides, including organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroids. Insects may simply stop feeding if they come across certain insecticides, or leave the area where spraying occurred (for instance, they may move to the underside of a sprayed leaf, move deeper in the crop canopy or fly away from the target area).
For more information, check out the IRAC’s training module explaining the major MoA mechanisms and groups.
Download the MoA Tutorial Slide Deck (74 slides).