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EPA allows novel RNAi pesticide for 3 years

Gene-silencing technology approved to fight Colorado potato beetle

by Britt E. Erickson
January 3, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 1


Colorado potato beetles on potato leaves
Credit: Shutterstock
US potato growers can now use a novel gene-silencing pesticide to combat the Colorado potato beetle.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of a sprayable biopesticide that relies on RNA interference (RNAi) to combat the destructive Colorado potato beetle. The pesticide’s active ingredient, ledprona, consists of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). The product is the first dsRNA pesticide in the world allowed to be sprayed on plants, according to the EPA.

Ledprona works by turning off a gene the Colorado potato beetle needs to produce a protein that is critical for its survival. The Massachusetts-based biotech firm GreenLight Biosciences, which makes the product, claims it specifically targets the Colorado potato beetle and is not harmful to other insects. The pesticide also breaks down rapidly in the environment, the company says.

The EPA plans to reevaluate the product after 3 years. The limited time frame “is consistent with EPA’s approach to other novel biopesticide products,” the agency says.

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm over potential unintended consequences of the novel technology on bees and other pollinators. “We are highly concerned about the use of this product and believe there to be insufficient research to ensure adequate protection of pollinators,” the Pollinator Stewardship Council says in comments submitted Oct. 14 to the EPA. The council warns that effects on nontarget species could expand beyond pollinators to entire populations and ecosystems.


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