U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Horak, K.E. 2020. RNAi: applications in vertebrate pest management. Trends in Biotechnology. 38(11):1200-1202.

doi: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2020.05.001


US gov't work


Sequence-directed inhibition of protein synthesis by RNAi has potential as a means to control pest wildlife. Species specific by design, RNAi reduces impacts on nontarget species and the environment. Additional research advancing the field of RNAi-based management of vertebrate pest wildlife is timely.

Despite the potential diverse applications of RNAi technology in vertebrates (fertility control, invasive species eradication, and pest species control to protect human health and agriculture), little progress has been made in applying RNAi to these classes of animals. A single proof-of-concept study using RNAi to control sea lampreys combined with recent advances in RNAi delivery have opened the door to numerous innovative applications of this technology in vertebrate management [12]. One of the hurdles to further development of RNAi in vertebrates will be delivery. To facilitate widespread use of RNAi-based products, oral baits will likely be necessary. Delivering RNAi orally will face many challenges, including protection from the hostile conditions in the gastrointestinal tract (GI), uptake into the systemic circulation, and shuttling the RNAi to the site of action. Research in nanotechnology has led to the development of numerous different nanoparticles that have been shown to facilitate effective oral delivery and GI uptake [13]. Other scientists are making progress tackling cellular delivery and internalization using cell-penetrating peptides [14]. Continued research in delivery, in vivo shuttling, and cell penetration will be imperative for the success of RNAi technology in vertebrate pest management applications. Because they are species-specific by design, RNAi-based products reduce risks to nontarget organisms, enabling them to be used broadly across landscapes, even in ecosystems that historically have been avoided because of environmental concerns. However, the small segments of nucleotides that make up RNAi molecules may still be recognized as foreign by both target and nontarget animals, thereby eliciting an immune response. These possible immune adverse effects of RNAi will need to be considered during RNAi development. Advances have been made toward reducing immune activation but continued research is important to ensure low risks to nontarget species [15]. Another benefit of interfering RNA is that it does not involve modification of the genome and consequently is not heritable; therefore, it is free from the controversy surrounding gene drives. Continued research in RNAi will provide breakthrough advancements in tools to control animal species protecting human health, agriculture, and infrastructure. Their use on the landscape level will require careful development of baits that retain activity through exposure to the conditions of the GI tract and are stable in harsh environmental conditions of varying temperature, humidity, and UV exposure.