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Big Ag Turns to Small RNAs

The RNAi Therapeutics Blog takes a look at how big ag-bio firms are increasingly taking an interest in RNA interference technology.

The blog notes that a deal announced earlier this week — in which Monsanto agreed to pay Alnylam $29 million in upfront payments for access to the RNAi firm's IP — is the latest example of "an RNAi scramble in the Ag space reminiscent of what happened in RNAi therapeutics in 2006-8," when a number of big pharma firms moved into the RNAi field.

Indeed, as Daily Scan's sister publication Gene Silencing News reported earlier this year, Devgen has signed a research partnership with Syngenta under which it is using RNAi to develop insect-control approaches for crop protection; Marina Biotech has given Monsanto exclusive access to its delivery and chemistry technologies; and Monsanto is advancing an internal project to develop a strain of corn that incorporates RNAi to create resistance to the corn rootworm.

The RNAi Therapeutics Blog adds that the need to fight corn rootworm has "dramatically increased" in recent years "as the long-standing transgenic Bacillus thurigiensis toxin-incorporating crop by Monsanto has been plagued by resistance."

The post speculates that RNAi has advantages over transgenic approaches because it "should speed up the regulatory process as RNA is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA." In addition, "unlike a toxin like Bt, the RNAi trigger can be highly specific to the targeted pest species."

Of course, the blog notes that it's still not known whether an RNAi-based approach "is technically and financially feasible in the first place."

In addition, the "RNAi history of feeding dsRNA-expressing bacteria to nematode worms" raises many of the same issues as any other transgenic technology. "While this may not be so much an environmental or health problem, you know that there are many out there that are religiously against anything 'GM', smashed windows and all."

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