Existing chemical pesticides and fungicides have many downsides and are rapidly losing favor among people who'd prefer to eat organic and hep the environment. But when fungi like Botrytis cinerea, which is capable of eating through hundreds of fruit plants at a time, are capable of causing $10 billion a year in damage to crops if left unchecked, what's a farmer to do? Enter RNA. Wired reports on companies working on a new generation of sprays based on RNA.
This new generation of pesticides is based on RNA interference (RNAi). The new crop sprays are being developed to use RNAi to switch off genes within pathogens at will, Wired says.
There are already a handful of RNA sprays in various company pipelines. A company called RNAissance Ag, for example, is working on a spray that targets the diamondback moth, which destroys cabbages and has already evolved some resistance to common pesticides. Another company called GreenLight Biosciences has an RNA spray targeting the Colorado potato beetle that's currently being evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is working on a spray for Botrytis, Wired adds. GreenLight is now field testing its Botrytis spray on grapes in California and strawberries in Italy to find out how long the spray sticks to plants and how it compares to chemical fungicides.
One advantage of RNA crop sprays over current chemical pesticides is that they'd break down in soil within days, so the environmental impact would be much less powerful, Wired says. And because RNA sprays would target genes specific to individual pathogen or pest species, there's a much lower chance that other organisms would be adversely affected.
People could still be squeamish about it, especially those who tend to wage war against any new crop tech, the article adds. But even if RNA sprays don't replace chemical pesticides entirely, they could be particularly useful for certain times of year or used in combination with traditional sprays to combat particularly nasty pests.