Target-specific RNA-based bioprotectants for sustainable crop production in a changing climate
A continuously growing world population as well as global warming and climate instability will increasingly challenge the ability of mankind to manage pests and diseases of cultivated plants. Concerns over negative effects of pesticides on the environment and on human health cause an increasing demand for environmentally sustainable production systems and „clean food”. Accordingly, the European Parliament has adopted legislation (Directive 2009/128/EC) aiming at reducing the use of chemical plant protection products and calling for an in-depth reconsideration of crop protection solutions throughout Europe.
The BioProtectproject contributes to reducing the application of chemical pesticides through further development of a bacterial dsRNA-production platform for the delivery of stable and efficient dsRNA formulations for cost-effective crop protection. This technology will be prepared for readiness to climate change by producing dsRNA agents that are stable and effective at different temperatures, thus under global warming conditions. dsRNA is a nature-derived and environmentally safe molecule that occurs in all organisms and is rapidly degraded in soils. Its application triggers RNA silencing, also known as RNA interference (RNAi), which is a normal cellular mechanism playing a crucial role in growth, development, and genome stabilization in plants, fungi, animals, and humans, and also plays a predominant role in plant antiviral defense. Because dsRNA-induced RNA silencing is sequence specific it can be programmed for crop protection against pathogens of choice. In addition, dsRNA has the potential to trigger pattern-triggered immunity (PTI) and, thus, to reinforce crop protection through a second host defense pathway. Thus, when dsRNA is applied as a crop protection agent, it acts as a strong defense activator that enhances the ability of plants to defend themselves using their own cellular mechanisms.
The bacterial dsRNA-production platform can be grown in fermenters and uses a dsRNA replicating system to produce high-quality (hq),>2500 bp long “hq-dsRNAs” in high amounts. hq-dsRNAs produced by this system were shown to be effective in protecting plants against infection by a model virus. Within theBioProtect project this technology will be further developed as a versatile system to produce hq-dsRNA agents and different hq-dsRNA formulations targeted against different viral and fungal pathogens as well as insect pests. The hq- dsRNAs formulations will be developed for their applicability as nature-derived bio-protectants for protection of vegetable and cereal cropsunder greenhouse and field test conditions. Particular emphasis will be given to formulations that provide increased hq-dsRNA stability during storage and application, efficient uptake and activity upon target crop spraying, and to the identification of determinants for upscaling and low production costs. The project will include the monitoring of activation of PTI versus RNAi, which may influence target specificity. In the light of climate change, a major focus will be on determining the efficiency of hq-dsRNA formulations at different dryness- wetness and environmental temperature conditions in order to identify hq-dsRNA formulations that will be active also under conditions of global warming. Moreover, PIs will have an open dialogue with farmers, consumers and governmental institutions to foster the use and acceptance of the new plant protection strategy.
Dr Manfred Heinlein
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), FRANCE
Dr. Minna Poranen
University of Helsinki, FINLAND
Prof. Karl-Heinz Kogel
Justus Liebig University Giessen, GERMANY
Prof. Anant Patel
University of Applied Sciences, GERMANY