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A Little Spritz

Researchers have developed a way to spray RNA onto plants to make them resistant to viruses for a short time, MIT's Technology Review reports.

The University of Queensland team loaded double-stranded RNA onto non-toxic, degradable, layered double hydroxide clay nanosheets. As they report in Nature Plants this week, when they applied these dsRNA-loaded clay sheets to plants, the researchers found that the sheets stuck to the plant such that the dsRNAs could be detected even some 30 days later. Typically, unprotected RNA break down more quickly.

In particular, the Queensland team reports that applying a dsRNA–LDH complex against the pepper mild mottle virus once could make tobacco plants resistant to the virus for nearly three weeks. "We believe it offers a step change in environmentally sustainable crop protection," co-author Neena Mitter tells the New Scientist.

The findings also, Tech Review notes, open up the possibility of not only preventing crop disease, but also improving drought tolerance and initiating ripening.

New Scientist notes that ag giant Monsanto has developed its own RNAi sprays aimed at crop pests like the varroa mites that infect bees.