Crops to kill pests
If you’re into gardening, you’ll definitely know how much of a nuisance certain insects and pests can be. You might have promised yourself you wouldn’t use any chemicals or pesticides on your precious little plants, but these nasty pests will push you over the edge! It’s simply not fair that they come along and destroy so recklessly your hard earned produce. Researchers were busy finding a way to employ crops to kill pests.
We all know how harmful pesticides can be for our own health. So what do we do to solve this problem?
Thankfully, researchers have a found a way to genetically engineer crops so that they may kill the insects ingesting them.
Well, how does this work?
It is a lesser known fact that plants are a type of eukaryotes that can actually control their genes. Eukaryotes are organisms that have complex cells that contain within it, a nucleus bounded with a membrane. DNA is organized into chromosomes within the nucleus. Most of the developed living organisms such as animals, plants algae and fungi are eukaryotes. DNA and RNA molecules in the cells are responsible for carrying the genetic information of the organism.
RNA interference to kill attacking pests
Another interesting fact is that plants can control their genes by a biochemical process known as RNA interference. RNA interference is the process by which the organism that inhibit its protein translation or gene expression by neutralizing the protein molecules of the target organism. It blocks the gene of the target that is essential for survival and reproduction, thereby killing the target organism (insects, in this case).
Currently, researchers are enhancing this method artificially in plants to help combat pest attack. This method fuels better prospects for the future, since we know that we cannot depend on pesticides as they could have adverse effects on our health as well as on the environment.
David Heckel, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology commented that with the development of the RNA interference method, he hopes to see a major reduction in the overall use of insecticides and pesticides.
The pros of developing RNA interference
The RNA interference strategy has so many advantages. It is optimally designed such that the RNA fragments do not harm non-threatening species unnecessarily and only kills the harmful species and some other species that are closely related to the target species and may pose to be a threat. Insecticides kill insects by wrecking the nervous system of the target species by producing certain proteins in their body. However, the use of insecticides and pesticides is not a viable solution in the long run due to its disadvantages as we’ve discussed above.
Previously, scientists have tried other genetic modification methods. Such processes worked by producing a new protein in the plant and it has always been a topic of concern that these newly produced proteins that prove to be poisonous for the insects, may have allergic or even poisonous effects on humans when they consume its produce. That is where the RNA interference strategy again wins. Using the RNA interference method, the plant does not produce any new protein and simply creates some extra RNA molecules that are basically harmless to humans.
Further research and development in this field
The development of the RNA interference strategy is in its initial stages and there still many hurdles to be overcome before it can be effectively used for a wide variety of plants and the pests that affect it. Scientists claim that they are still working on developing the most direct and easy route to produce the require RNA fragments which is by transforming the chloroplast genomes of major cereal grains like corn and rice. They have also found out that the strategy does not have an effect on certain pests such as caterpillars as they can counteract the process.
However, scientists are determined to find the perfect strategy that will provide a permanent solution for pest control by employing crops to kill pests.