Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from John Killmer

Like GMOs, Minus the Baggage

Sprayed-on RNA can improve farmers’ lives without genetically modifying their crops.

  • August 18, 2015

Almost 60 years ago I stood beneath a blazing Louisiana sun, up to my knees weeding in the tepid, mosquito-infested water of my father’s rice field. It was the 1950s, and I was nine years old. I eventually got off that farm, but the experience made me devote myself to developing technology to make agriculture more productive and its practice less physically demanding.

John Killmer

Now I’m part of a company working to develop a new non-GMO technology that could provide a boost to agricultural productivity while also controlling insect-borne disease. Sprayed-on RNA that silences specific genes has the potential to transform agriculture for both large-scale and subsistence farmers (see “The Next Great GMO Debate”).

This story is part of our September/October 2015 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

So-called RNAi (RNA interference) technology could let farmers alter crops without permanent genetic modification. It could, one day, allow farmers to spray a crop with a drought remedy only when there’s a drought. It could give them the ability to control mosquitoes in an environmentally benign way.

RNAi was not clearly described until the late 1990s, but research has moved rapidly. RNA is a natural component of all the food we eat, and there’s good evidence that it’s benign with regard to human health and the environment. Some even think it could be a great tool for organic farming, whose once-meteoric growth is now constrained by the lack of productivity tools common in large-scale agriculture.

A major impediment to all this is cost—manufacturing RNA is now incredibly expensive, and we need to find a cheaper way of making it. My company, Apse, is working on that problem now.

Genetic modification has been limited to a few crops and has been rejected by large swaths of consumers. Topical RNAi can provide many of the benefits that genetic modification has promised, but without the baggage.

John Killmer is CEO of Apse, a company developing RNA technology in agriculture.

AI is here. Will you lead or follow?
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.