Bringing a Sustainable Pesticide to Scale with UC Berkeley

Agricultural pesticides are known to be harmful to the environment and to human health, and pests have become resistant to them over time. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) produced by microbes has emerged as a promising biological alternative to traditional chemical pesticides. Not only is dsRNA less energy-intensive, it can also target specific pests. 

But scaling up dsRNA production has been a challenge, and only a few microbes have been used and optimized to produce it. A new collaboration between researchers in the Agile BioFoundry and the Wildermuth Lab at the University of California, Berkeley will aim to bring dsRNA to scale. 

The Wildermuth Lab has been studying dsRNA’s effectiveness against powdery mildew, a disease that affects grapevine berries. Chemical fungicides are losing their effectiveness against this disease, creating a need for an alternative pesticide. 

“The dsRNA production methods we used for our past and current lab studies are not sustainable,” said Mary Wildermuth, associate professor at UC Berkeley. “We need an efficient and cost-effective means for producing commercial-scale quantities of dsRNA.” 

The two teams will take an iterative approach to efficiently optimize and engineer a microbial host for dsRNA production and create a scalable microbial production method. 

The global market for RNA-based biopesticides could reach over $30 billion annually. 

“An effective system for producing dsRNA for agriculture could be transformative,” Wildermuth said.