A pair of Australian universities have developed a new crop protection technique that may be a better alternative to genetically-modified crops and chemical pesticides.
Researchers at the University of Surrey and the University of Queensland have developed a new non-toxic, degradable spray based on nanotechnology to help tackle the two greatest threats to global food crops—pests and diseases.
The spray—dubbed BioClay—is capable of disabling specific genes in plants and can protect plants from disease-causing pathogens without altering their DNA.
The researchers were able to combine clay nanoparticles with designer RNAs to silence certain genes within plants.
The plants that were sprayed with BioClay showed a protection of viruses of at least 20 days following a single application. When a plant is sprayed with BioClay it will think it is being attacked by a disease or an insect and will respond by protecting itself.
Professor G.Q. Max Lu, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey and co-author of the research paper, explained how the breakthrough came about.
“This is one of the best examples of nanoparticles being effective for biological molecular delivery with a controlled release rate for combating diseases in plants or animals,” he said in a statement. “The same nanoparticle technology invented and patented in my laboratory at the University of Queensland was used for effective targeted drug delivery.
“It was licensed to an Oxford-based pharmaceutical company and is now being commercialized for drug development.”
The science team view the spray as being beneficial for agriculture and will positively impact communities around the world.
Plant pests and pathogens eliminates an estimated 30 to 40 percent of global crop yields each year, constraining global food security at a time when there is a need for higher production, regulatory demands, and pesticide resistance, with concerns over global warming driving the spread of disease.
Previously naked RNAs were too instable to being used effectively for virus protection, but they do not wash when they are loaded on to clay nanoparticles, enabling them to be released over an extended period of time before degrading.
The BioClay technology, which is based on nanoparticles used in the development of human drug treatments, is non-toxic and degradable, making it less of a risk to the environment and human health.
The study was published in Nature Plants.