Pesticide Chemical Research in Toxicology: Lessons from Nature

Chem Res Toxicol. 2017 Jan 17;30(1):94-104. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00303. Epub 2016 Oct 7.


Pesticide researchers are students of nature, and each new compound and mechanism turns a page in the ever-expanding encyclopedia of life. Pesticides are both probes to learn about life processes and tools for pest management to facilitate food production and enhance health. In contrast to some household and industrial chemicals, pesticides are assumed to be hazardous to health and the environment until proven otherwise. About a thousand current pesticides working by more than 100 different mechanisms have helped understand many processes and coupled events. Pesticide chemical research is a major source of toxicology information on new natural products, novel targets or modes of action, resistance mechanisms, xenobiotic metabolism, selective toxicity, safety evaluations, and recommendations for safe and effective pest management. Target binding site models help define the effect of substituent changes and predict modifications for enhanced potency and safety and circumvention of resistance. The contribution of pesticide chemical research in toxicology is illustrated here with two each of the newer or most important insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. The insecticides are imidacloprid and chlorantraniliprole acting on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and the ryanodine receptor Ca2+ channel, respectively. The herbicides are glyphosate that inhibits aromatic amino acid biosynthesis and mesotrione that prevents plastoquinone and carotenoid formation. The fungicides are azoxystrobin inhibiting the Qo site of the cytochrome bc1 complex and prothioconazole inhibiting the 14α-demethylase in ergosterol biosynthesis. The two target sites involved for each type of pesticide account for 27-40% of worldwide sales for all insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. In each case, selection for resistance involving a single amino acid change in the binding site or detoxifying enzyme circumvents the pesticide chemists's structure optimization and guarantees survival of the pest and a continuing job for the design chemist. These lessons from nature are a continuing part of pest management and maintaining human and environmental health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nature
  • Pesticides / pharmacology
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Research


  • Pesticides