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SmartProtect : Ribonucleic acid interference in Insect Pest Management

 How RNAi Works  

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) interference, often abbreviated as RNAi, is a new technique that allows precise targeting and then turning off specific genes inside an organism’s cells. The mechanism behind RNAi was first described at the turn of the 21st century.  


RNAi disrupts the process of extracting the information stored in an organism’s DNA and using it to produce proteins, thus interfering with physiological processes at a cellular level. Proteins are essential components of all living organisms on the planet Earth. 


RNAi prevents mRNA from getting to ribosomes in one piece. This is done by applying another molecule, called a double-stranded RNA, or dsRNA for short, that matches the target mRNA in its structure. (I know that there are perhaps too many RNAs to keep track of in this text, but there is not much that I can do about it). This molecule enters the cell, reacts with a few special proteins that are already present in the cell, and then literally shreds the target mRNA. As a result, no information is delivered to the ribosomes and no new proteins are produced.  


How RNAi works in Insect Control 

RNAi is a powerful technique that has many potentials uses in biotechnology and medicine. One of the promising applications is developing new insecticides. We can identify a specific gene that is unique to an organism belonging to a given pest species and is essential for its survival. We can then synthesize dsRNA that matches this gene, get it inside the target organisms, and then kill them by turning off this gene. Non-target organisms that do not have the same gene should not be affected in the process. RNAi allows designing an active ingredient that aims at a specific pest in a specific manner. In the field, such a dsRNA can be delivered to a target insect in two ways. The first one is to genetically modify crop plants to make them produce dsRNA in their foliage 

The second way of deploying insecticidal dsRNA is to produce it at a factory and then spray it on the foliage. There are several such products at different stages of development.


 What RNAi can’t do in Insect Control 

RNAi may well open a new chapter in insect control, complementing and maybe even replacing to some degree synthetic chemicals that currently dominate this field. However, it will not provide a silver-bullet solution that will once and for all protect crops from insect damage. So far, it appears that insecticides containing dsRNA as their active ingredients will have the same problems as their predecessors. 


First, some groups of insects are not particularly responsive to RNAi. Beetles, such as Western corn rootworm and Colorado potato beetle mentioned above, are generally susceptible. However, caterpillars, as well as aphids, leafhoppers, scales, whiteflies, and their relatives are rather recalcitrant. We do not yet know why this happens, but it may have something to do with their ability to digest dsRNA in their guts before they make it into the cells. 


Secondly, while dsRNA appears to be generally safe to non-target organisms, this safety should not be taken for granted. Some of the genes are similar or even identical among different species. 


Thirdly, insecticide resistance is likely to be an issue for the dsRNA just like it is an issue for other active ingredients. Mutants will arise that will be able to somehow destroy or avoid dsRNA molecules. These mutants will survive, proliferate, and take over the world (or at least the field). 


To know more read the article of CropLife  


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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 862563.


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