A Brief History of Resistance

A dog resists his adopter as they go for a walk.

Even the family pet shows resistance, which pervades everyday life. Source: iStock.

resistance, n. 1 The action of resisting, opposing, or withstanding someone or something. 2 Natural or required ability to withstand disease, infection, or attack by pests.

An early instance of the dual idea of “resistance” and “disease” appeared in a medical manual in 1793. Four decades later, in 1833, the notion of resistance to the action of an antibiotic or drug was published. In the 2000s, we hear increasingly about resistance by insects, weeds, and diseases to human-made attempts to control them.

Evil, or indifferent?

Of course, for a bug, resistance—the ability of a living thing to withstand a practice or condition that would result in death—means survival. For a timely example, a changing climate can put selection pressure on an organism to a degree where a few individuals with favorable genes survive and reproduce while the remaining neighbors die off. In nature—as well as in human systems such as farming and medicine—conditions and actions are constantly changing. On this stage, integrated pest management (IPM) offers an answer to pests that is flexible, responsive, and effective.

Three examples

In this issue, we showcase examples of resistance in each of three major pest groups: insects, weeds, and diseases. We speak to ecologist David Mortensen of Penn State about his work on weed resistance to herbicides. We explore the work of Andrei Alyokhin, an entomologist with the University of Maine, who has been working with the Colorado potato beetle for much of his career. For the perspective on diseases, we consider the research of Quan Zeng at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, who studies fire blight and other diseases.

As this issue arrives at your door, many people are hearing messages in the media about “pesticide resistance.” What does it mean, exactly? What is IPM and does it help or hinder pesticide resistance? Some pest management tactics seem to contribute to resistance. Should they be labeled as IPM?

The benefits of IPM are reduced pesticide use and cost-effective pest control. However, supporters of certain pest management strategies want to label their practices as IPM, when arguably, they are neither ecological, nor knowledge-based, nor are they sustainable.

IPM is a systems-level approach that takes into account human and environmental health and economics using a diversity of tactics. IPM is not the reliance on a single tactic year after year until it fails, nor is IPM the addition of tactic upon tactic as resistance develops. IPM promotes the judicious and integrated use of tactics that include mechanical, biological, cultural, and chemical options for the management of both pests and pest resistance. IPM is the integration of strategies in a systems approach. This is true IPM.


"resistance, n.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/163661?redirectedFrom=resistance (accessed January 12, 2016).


The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.