Researchers developing natural pesticide alternative

Funding to bankroll research into pressing food challenges
Credit: Gorodenkoff

Food researchers are collaborating with the agriculture industry to develop a natural sustainable pesticide alternative that targets specific pests without harming honeybees.

Researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield are collaborating with industry partner, agricultural company Syngenta, on a pioneering biocontrol that uses dsRNA-based biocontrols to target plant pests.

RNA-based biocontrols exploit a naturally occurring process called RNA interference (RNAi) in which double stranded RNA (dsRNA) essentially stops the production of a critical protein in the target pest.

New research published by the scientists in Analyst, a Royal Society of Chemistry journal, suggests this new approach could be key to addressing the threat to food security posed by plant pests – which account for a 40% loss in global agricultural production and costs $100 billion every year.

Professor Mark Dickman, from the Institute for Sustainable Food and Director of Research at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, led the study.

“The RNA biocontrols we are working on with Syngenta can help to address the sustainability challenge for farming,” he said.

“The idea is that dsRNA is applied to the crops, then along comes the pest, which eats the crop. The dsRNA molecule then kills the pest by triggering the RNAi mechanism.

“The advantage of this is that we can be highly selective. We have the ability to target a specific pest while protecting beneficial species, such as honeybees.

“A key challenge will be making enough of these biocontrols which are natural, biodegradable and sustainable, and to deliver them to the crops.

“We’re currently working on production strategies to make the RNA biocontrols and methods to analyse this important product.”