12 September 2022
At the intersection of traditional chemistry and biotechnology lies an exciting advancement in the future of pest management: Double stranded ribonucleic acid (dsRNA).
dsRNA is like the traffic police for gene function. dsRNA is a trigger molecule that gives cells the ability to switch off the activity of genes and is crucial to a plant’s development and defence mechanism against disease.
The discovery of dsRNA is providing new ways to protect plants from the pests and diseases that reduce global food production by up to 40 per cent. As new biosecurity threats emerge and resistance evolves, dsRNA is being harnessed as an impressively specific biopesticide that only targets the genes of a pest essential to its survival. This is the type of innovation that will be at the core of the fourth agricultural revolution.
Technologies using dsRNA are so precisely focused and targeted to a pest’s gene that they are harmless to everything else around it, even closely related pest species. For farmers, it’s a game-changer in pest management and environmental sustainability.
Next-generation technologies such as these are currently being developed at Australian universities and public research institutes like the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and global research centres. The challenge however is to develop a product that is shelf stable and active, that doesn’t naturally break down before it is applied.
The future is here. Fostering investment into novel and effective pest management solutions such as dsRNA will continue to drive innovations that make a difference to farmers and the planet.
A new application technology has been developed by the University of Queensland to target silverleaf whitefly, one of cotton’s most damaging pests. BioClay™ spray uses degradable clay particles that protect the dsRNA from degrading before it is applied. When applied, the dsRNA enters the plant and protects it without altering the plant’s genome.
Research team leader Professor Neena Mitter said, “When whiteflies try to feed on the sap, they also ingest the dsRNA, which kills the insect by targeting genes essential to its survival.”