New Pesticides Will Modify Insect Genes: What Could Go Wrong?

Food Tank,  EcoWatch,  2021.

Biden’s election has boosted hopes that scientific integrity will be restored in the federal government. To make good on that promise, the administration will need to take action to safeguard against the risks of an entirely new type of pesticide, one developed by genetic engineers rather than chemists. These pesticides will broadcast “gene silencing” agents across our farm fields — resulting in an open-air genetic engineering experiment. Among the concerns that scientists have raised are threats to bees and other beneficial insects essential to food production. Others have called out potential impacts on human health, including for some of our most essential frontline workers — farmworkers — and rural communities. Farmers across the U.S. could soon fill their pesticide spray tanks with a substance known as interfering RNA (RNAi). (RNA is a molecule similar to DNA.) Insects that are exposed to it — either by eating crops sprayed with the substance or by landing on a crop and absorbing it through their bodies — would be genetically modified right there in the field. The pesticide would trigger a process inside the insects’ cells to switch off or “silence” genes that are essential for survival — like those needed to make new, healthy cells — thus killing them. These new pesticides will modify insect genes:  What could go wrong?

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