In 2006, Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering RNA interference (RNAi), the process of turning off specific cell genes. RNAi has enormous implications for human health, as it could potentially be used to treat many different diseases, including cancer and genetic disorders. It has also helped scientists identify which genes are implicated in disease pathways and find new drugs to treat those diseases. Beyond the application in the pharma industry, RNAi can also be used in agriculture to combat pest infection.
Despite extensive studies on double-stranded RNA in agriculture over the past two decades, RNAi has not yet fulfilled its commercial promise. RNAi has some negative characteristics, such as breaking down quickly, not being very specific, and having difficulty crossing membranes. The pharmaceutical industry can solve this problem using a synthetic chemical formulation to change the RNA’s surface properties. However, in agriculture, people are moving away from using synthetic chemicals. Trillium Ag has developed Agrisome, a promising new platform that combines RNA interference (RNAi) and protein-driven activity to target specific agricultural pests with several modalities, overcoming the last barriers that hindered RNAi. As a result, Agrisome has the potential to offer a more targeted and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional pest management techniques such as pesticides, which could help reduce crop losses and increase yields, benefiting farmers and improving food security.
While RNAi has many potential applications in agriculture, there have also been some drawbacks and challenges associated with its use. One major issue has been the off-target effects of RNAi, where unintended genes are silenced, leading to unintended consequences. Additionally, RNAi can be unpredictable, as the effect of gene silencing can vary depending on factors such as the specific RNA molecule used, the dose, and the target organism. Another drawback of RNAi is its potential impact on non-target organisms, including beneficial insects and other wildlife. Finally, RNAi’s cost and regulatory requirements can significantly hinder its widespread use in agriculture.
Todd Hauser, CEO & co-founder of Trillium Ag, explains that Agrisome is entirely composed of natural materials, and nothing new is mechanistically introduced to the plant. Researchers can now program the surface of RNA and ultimately take control of stability, targeting, and uptake. By silencing genes responsible for the production of gut tissue integrity in a pest while introducing other natural plant defensis, researchers can reduce its ability to feed on the crop and make it harmless to the plant. This precise approach allows for targeted control of pests without harming beneficial organisms or the environment. As such, Agrisome-based pest management strategies hold significant promise for sustainable agriculture, particularly in reducing crop losses and increasing yields.
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