EPA Quietly Approves First RNAi Insecticide
Credit: Balaram Mahalder
EPA recently registered four products containing a new and innovative plant-incorporated protectant (PIP) called SMARTSTAX PRO that will help U.S. farmers control corn rootworm, a devastating corn pest that has developed resistance to several other pesticides.
“We are using innovation and emerging technologies to solve problems like infestations of corn rootworm on our nation’s corn crop,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Corn rootworm has been called the ‘billion-dollar pest’ because it is so expensive for corn growers to control.”
Corn rootworm is a major pest of corn in the U.S. and has developed resistance to several other pesticides. Controlling corn rootworm is a major challenge for many corn growers and infestations frequently result in significant yield losses to corn crops. Corn rootworm has been referred to as the “billion-dollar pest” because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that the insect can collectively cost corn growers in the U.S. over a billion dollars in terms of control costs and yield losses.
PIPs are plants that have genes inserted causing the plants to produce a pesticide inside their own tissues. When plants are genetically modified to produce pesticides in this manner they are regulated by the EPA.
The ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi) technology found in SMARTSTAX PRO works through a process of gene control that occurs naturally in plants, animals, and humans alike. Scientists harnessed this control process to create the product, which works as a pesticide by silencing or turning-off the activity of a gene critical to corn rootworm survival, resulting in the death of the corn rootworm. This product is so specific that it only affects the corn rootworm.
This technology also has the potential to help our nation’s corn farmers combat resistance to Bt corn in corn rootworm. Bt corn has significantly decreased the amount of conventional soil insecticide used to control corn rootworm, but farmers would lose this important pesticide should resistance to Bt spread throughout the corn rootworm population. When combined with Bt traits, SMARTSTAX PRO will provide a new tool for corn growers to combat resistance to Bt in corn rootworm.
Because SMARTSTAX PRO is the first RNAi-based plant protectant product to target an insect pest, EPA has sought advice on two occasions from the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel.
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