The potential for exploiting natural wheat resistance to control the cereal aphid Rhopalosiphum padi, the most important aphid pest of small grain cereals in the UK, was investigated as an alternative approach to the use of insecticides. The investigation focussed on a group of secondary metabolites, the hydroxamic acids or benzoxazinones, present naturally as glucosides, but which hydrolyse on tissue damage to give biologically active aglycones, e.g. 2,4-dihydroxy-7-methoxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one (DIMBOA) which are associated with natural plant defence. These can be important for resistance against insects, fungi, bacteria and nematodes for a range of cultivated monocotyledonous plants and could ultimately be combined with other defence mechanisms to provide a general approach to cereal aphid control. Levels of hydroxamic acids, particularly DIMBOA-glucoside, were determined in hexaploid (Triticum aestivum) and tetraploid (Triticum durum) wheat varieties and differences were found between species and varieties. The effect of feeding by R. padi on the level of hydroxamic acids in the leaf tissue was also investigated. Thus, after 24 h of aphid feeding, as an apparently localised hydrolytic defence reaction in the leaf, levels of DIMBOA-glucoside decreased noticeably. When aphids were fed on sucrose solution containing low doses of DIMBOA there was a significant mortality compared to the sucrose control. However, the levels of and variation in hydroxamic acids in the wheat varieties investigated were insufficient for significant differences in aphid behaviour and development.