MAY 20, 2018 1:24 PM PDT

RNA-interfering Vaccine can Protect Plants From Pests

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Traditional pesticides can be harmful to the environment or other organisms, including humans. New solutions to pest management in agriculture are also going to be important if we are to feed a growing population with crops that may be under strain because of changes in the environment. A new project by the University of Helsinki and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) is assessing how vaccines that interfere with strands of genetic material called RNA might be a good option for protecting plants in an environmentally friendly way.

Plant diseases and pests cause considerable crop losses and threaten global food security. / Credit: 123rf

"A new approach to plant protection involves vaccinating plants against pathogens with double-stranded RNA molecules that can be sprayed directly on the leaves," explained Dr. Minna Poranen of the Molecular and Integrative Biosciences Research Program at the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

The vaccine uses a process called RNA interference, a natural system used by many organisms to defend against pathogens. It has been adapted for a variety of applications in the laboratory to manipulate gene expression levels. In this case, the vaccine initiates interference against RNA molecules that are used by pests. Those molecules are critical to the production of proteins essential to the pest, so when RNA interference halts the expression of those genes, the pest dies.

This mechanism would also be specific to the targets of certain RNA sequences that are only present in the pathogenic organism and so in theory, it would be harmless to other stuff. RNA is also sensitive to rapid degradation, so it would not start to accumulate in the environment. 

The scientists made a technical breakthrough in this work. "The challenge in developing RNA-based vaccines to protect plants has involved the production of RNA molecules. Double-stranded RNA molecules have been produced through chemical synthesis, both as drug molecules and for research purposes, but such production methods are inefficient and expensive for plant protection," Poranen noted.

Poranen’s group has created a new method to make double-stranded RNA molecules as part of the Academy of Finland's Synthetic Biology Research Program. Typically in nature, RNA exists as a single-stranded molecule. With collaborators at CNRS, the scientists have concluded that bacterial cells can be used to produce RNA molecules that act as bacteriophages, which are viruses that kill bacteria. This strategy will make manufacturing those bacteriophages easier. It may be especially since they’ve also shown that RNA-based vaccines work when used against viral infections in plants. The vaccine strategy still has to be promoted for use, however.

"It's difficult to predict when the vaccine will be made available because no relevant legislation exists yet," Poranen added.

 

Sources: Eurekalert! via University of Helsinki, Plant Biotechnology Journal

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 10, 2021
Neuroscience
Is consciousness a quantum phenomenon?
AUG 10, 2021
Is consciousness a quantum phenomenon?
Researchers experiments with quantum fractals reveal promising direction for consciousness research
AUG 15, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
AUG 15, 2021
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
The exotic Venus flytrap is a famous carnivorous plant that's easy to identify. But it seems that another carnivorous pl ...
SEP 06, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Researchers Miniaturize the CRISPR Gene Editing Tool
SEP 06, 2021
Researchers Miniaturize the CRISPR Gene Editing Tool
The CRISPR gene editor uses RNA molecules that act as guides that ta Cas9 proteins, which are like enzymatic scissors, t ...
SEP 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Genetic Influences That Help Make the Human Brain Unique
SEP 07, 2021
Genetic Influences That Help Make the Human Brain Unique
For years, many researchers have been trying to answer the question "What makes us human?" from both a biological and ph ...
SEP 12, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Revealing Genes That Escape X Chromosome Inactivation
SEP 12, 2021
Revealing Genes That Escape X Chromosome Inactivation
Some diseases impact men, or women, at different rates or severities, with different symptoms or varied ages of onset; t ...
SEP 26, 2021
Coronavirus
LIBRA-Seq ID's a Potent Antibody to Fight COVID-19
SEP 26, 2021
LIBRA-Seq ID's a Potent Antibody to Fight COVID-19
Humans can produce millions or even billions of antibodies, so only so many can be captured and screened. But those anti ...
Loading Comments...