RNA plant vaccine could replace toxic pesticides

Scientists in Finland and France have developed a new protection method that vaccinates plants against certain pests and pathogens.

    2018/04/09

NSFW    HELSINKI — Conventional pesticides are a double-edged sword that scientists are now seeking to replace with more natural RNA-based plant vaccines.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that without pesticides, roughly 70 percent of the world's crops would be lost to pests. But such chemicals are toxic — killing insects but also affecting the rest of the environment.

New research in the Plant Biology Journal details an approach that involves directly spraying plant leaves with an RNA-based vaccine. Developed in France and Finland, this inoculates against specific pests or pathogens.

The vaccine triggers a process called RNA interference, which prevents invading RNA strands from carrying out their functions, thus causing the pest to die.

RNA molecules in the vaccine do not negatively affect the host plant. The RNA also has the added benefit of being biodegradable because it breaks down quickly.

Instead of chemical synthesis, scientists used a bacteria-eating virus called a bacteriophage to help generate the RNA.
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