Battling Bugs: Danforth Center Founded Startup RNAissance Ag Offers Targeted, Sustainable Solutions in a Warming World

Insect pests impact every person on our planet: nearly 20% of crops are lost each year to insect damage, costing billions of dollars. To tackle the problem, farmers have turned to chemical pesticides, but these are expensive, dangerous, and diminishing in potency due to evolving insect resistance. They also typically kill beneficial insects (like pollinators) along with pests. The need for new pest management technology is urgent and widespread.

Enter: RNAissance Ag. In 2017, Danforth Center Senior Research Scientist Bala P. Venkata, PhD, an entomologist, discovered a groundbreaking new approach using RNA interference (RNAi) for specific control of target pests. Realizing the potential, Venkata partnered with venture and technology developer TechAccel to launch RNAissance Ag in 2019 to develop sustainable biopesticides. Later that year, the fledgling startup was selected as part of the first agtech cohort in the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2).

Danforth Center Senior Research Scientist Bala Venkata, PhD, co-founder of RNAissance Ag. The startup is developing unique biopesticides that use RNA interference (RNAi) to target highly specific insects.

Today, RNAissance Ag has offices in BRDG Park on the Danforth Center campus and employs 14 people. Their primary focus is the development of sprayable RNAi products against pests such as the diamondback moth, fall armyworm, and several others. These biopesticides are designed to be highly specific to the target pest, are not toxic to other organisms, and are biodegradable. The American Chemical Society identified RNAissance Ag earlier this year one of the “20 promising companies that will change the future of farming technology.” And the new technology didn’t arrive a moment too soon.

“Climate change is a game changer,” said founder Venkata. “Insect life cycles are limited primarily by the climate. In a warmer world, not only do insects expand their territory, but they can now experience more lifecycles per crop season. RNAissance Ag offers targeted, sustainable solutions to a growing problem.”

Colorado potato beetle, one of several pest targets for biopesticide development at RNAissance Ag.

The American Chemical Society has identified RNAissance Ag as one of the 20 promising companies that will change the future of farming technology.



Why It Matters

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A version of this story originally appeared in the Leaflet, the free newsletter of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Sign up to receive more stories like this straight to your inbox.