by Antonio Regalado
Deep inside its labs, Monsanto is learning how to modify crops by spraying them with RNA rather than tinkering with their genes.
The Colorado potato beetle is a voracious eater. The insect can chew through 10 square centimeters of leaf a day, and left unchecked it will strip a plant bare. But the beetles I was looking at were doomed. The plant they were feeding on—bright green and carefully netted in Monsanto’s labs outside St. Louis—had been doused with a spray of RNA.
The experiment took advantage of a mechanism called RNA interference. It’s a way to temporarily turn off the activity of any gene. In this case, the gene being shut down was one vital to the insect’s survival. “I am pretty sure 99 percent of them will be dead soon,” said Jodi Beattie, a Monsanto scientist who showed me her experiment. Read Full Article »