RNA Interference in Plants

About RNAi

RNA interference (RNAi) is a natural process cells use to turn down, or surpress the activity of specific genes. The process was discovered in the 1990’s and additional research in the area led to Drs. Fire and Mello winning a Nobel Prize for their work in 2006. Their award-winning work, and that of countless other scientists, has opened many new areas of research in human, animal and plant health.

Today research for the use of RNAi in agriculture spans a variety of areas; including traditional areas of plant protection from weeds and bugs to novel new approaches to increasing yields. While research continues, some of the more interesting uses of RNAi in plants include the development of allergy-free peanuts and decaffeinated coffee beans. Monsanto has used RNAi in the development of improved oils in soybeans and as a new way of protecting plants from pests that attack the roots of corn plants underground. Both products can be found in our R&D pipeline.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is RNA interference?

RNA interference (RNAi) is a natural process cells use to turn down, or suppress the activity of specific genes. This is done through the cell’s natural ability to review RNA instructions inside the cell and then “decide” whether to process the instructions or not. As a result, the process can turn down or stop production of a specific protein, much like a dimmer on a light switch. This cellular process was discovered in the 1990’s and additional research in the area led to Drs. Fire and Mello winning a Nobel Prize for their work in 2006. Their award-winning work, and that of countless other scientists, has opened many new areas of research in human, animal and plant health.

How does RNAi work?

RNAi works by naturally interfering with messengers, called messenger RNA, that carry information to protein factories within the cell. If the factory doesn’t receive the information, it can’t produce the protein, essentially turning down or off the production of that particular protein. RNAi can be very specific, targeting proteins that control plant pigmentation or the oil composition within a soybean seed.

How was RNAi discovered?

RNAi was first noticed in petunias, when plant biologists attempted to deepen the flowers’ purple color by introducing a pigment-producing gene. Instead of intensifying the color, the gene suppressed it, resulting in flowers with mixed white and purple colors or completely white.

How can RNAi be applied to help farmers?

Scientists around the world are discovering new areas where they believe RNAi can be valuable to human, animal and plant health. At Monsanto, our researchers are focused on tapping into the technology as a new way to use natural plant processes to help farmers increase yields or improve the crops they grow.