RNAi - lite GM bug busters

December 2015

By 2020, Monsanto plans to have the first two 'RNAi' insecticidal products on the market: one is an 'RNAi' spray to  kill potato beetles, the other is an 'RNAi'-enhanced corn to kill corn rootworm.

RNA is produced by DNA and has chemical similarities.  It's role is to regulate all aspects of gene function and protein formation.  The 'i' in RNAi stands for 'interference, because the synthetic RNA molecules being developed by Monsanto  are designed to prevent the creation of proteins.  In pests, Monsanto's RNAi kills by interfering with the activity of one of the target pest's vital genes.  RNAi is also referred to as 'dsRNA' where 'ds' means 'double-stranded' and is a biotech trick used to confer stability on the normally short-lived, single-stranded RNA.  All such RNA is collectively referred to as regulatory RNA.

Monsanto's RNAi spray will be formulated to enable the pesticide to penetrate into the plant tissue, while RNAi-enhanced GM maize will produce its own RNAi pesticide.  Either way, the bugs will eat the plant plus the toxic RNAi, and get killed.

GM-free Scotland has previously reported wide-ranging concerns about biotech RNA: the molecules are highly mobile and highly active, with a recognised tendency to change in response to physiological and environmental factors, and have questionable species-specificity (see RNA MODIFIED FOOD - July, 2013).

In the words of the Center for Food Safety:

"these are very complex biological systems, and their interactions evolve, and are not static.  So it is really impossible to predict all the things that could go wrong."

Of course, the industry spin is full on: the pests won't be likely to develop resistance to RNAi treatments (Why not?  Pests have so far become resistant to every other pesticide humans have thrown at them); RNAi crops "mimic the effects of genetic modification without changing the underlying DNA" and "without the safety fears or concerns that altered genes would be passed on through the generations" (RNAi doesn't 'mimic' GM, it is GM by stealth, and that 'underlying' DNA may, indeed, be modified by RNAi in heritable ways); RNAi "overrides most criticisms of GM" (On the contrary, the unpredictability of RNAi is even greater than inserting DNA); there's a "vanishingly small risk" to non-target insects (An assumption on species specificity yet to be ascertained).


Don't swallow the public sedation bit.  In the words of  Professor Vicki Vance (see RNAi IN FOOD CROPS - RISKS SUPRESSED - June 2014) "From the viewpoint of Big Ag companies (the technology) raises unfortunate questions about the safety of RNAi food crops that, I think, they would rather deny than address".

  • Tom Philpott, New Monsanto spray kills bugs by messing with their genes, Mother Jones, 19.08.15
  • GM lobby pushes new gene-silencing GMOs in spite of safety risks, GM Watch 18.08.15
  • Paul Koberstein, A very different kind of GMO is headed to supermarket shelves, Earth Island Journal 17.08.15
  • Oliver Moody, GM lite - technology will benefit crops without damaging DNA, The Australian. 18 08

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