Robert Brucker grew up in rural Ohio, where farmers depend on herbicides to protect crops. Now in his lab in the Microbial Sciences Initiative at the Rowland Institute of Harvard, he studies how agrochemicals affect insects over multiple generations.

“It’s important to recognize that the pesticides and herbicides we use are essential for our food security, and that following best practice in pest management is an essential part of life,” said Brucker, who is a Rowland fellow. “But now that we’re starting to understand the role of microbes in health, it’s time to look carefully at the impact these compounds have not only on cytotoxicity, but also on the microbiomes of pollinators and even ourselves.”

In his latest study, published in Cell Host & Microbe, Brucker investigated the effects of atrazine, a common herbicide with comparatively low toxicity, on the microbes living in the guts of wasps. The study demonstrates that resistance to multiple pesticides can arise in a population exposed to low concentrations of atrazine, that the microbiome facilitates this resistance, and that it provides resistance against other pesticides to which the host animal has never been exposed.

Read more at the Harvard Gazette