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What is RNAi and why it is relevant to our Food?

Seminar by Nobel Laureate, Dr Andrew Fire

8 May 2015


On 8 May 2015, a seminar by Nobel laureate Dr Andrew Fire, a professor of pathology and of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, entitled “What is RNAi and why it is relevant to our Food?” was held at headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). First, Dr Fire spoke about how RNA interference (RNAi) was discovered by explaining the observation results of several experiments and the meanings of those phenomena. Then, he specifically discussed possible strategies relying on RNAi to replace fumigants to combat nematodes in agriculture. RNAi can provide an effective alternative to the use of methyl bromide, a sterilizer which is toxic to agriculture works and adjacent communities, by developing plants that produce specific RNA sequences that silence genes essential for nematode survival, the pest can be effectively removed from the field. Also, beneficial applications in the agricultural domain could include the development of plants with changed intrinsic properties or an altered interaction with their environment. However, possible negative consequences to consumers might be a drawback for using RNAi that include a strong response from them on using this technology as well as the safety consideration of the modification that might cause unintended effects. Dr Fire concluded his presentation by advocating an effective and rapid regulatory infrastructure that protects human health and the environment and enables beneficial advances that could in particular minimize the use of highly toxic chemical pesticides. This might allow the technology to make a contribution to improve the safety of agriculture and to provide beneficial tools for future agriculture development.

Final report


Dr Andrew Fire is a professor of pathology and of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Dr Craig C. Mello, for their contributions in the discovery of RNAi. Dr Fire and Dr Mello, along with other colleagues reported that tiny snippets of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) effectively shut down specific genes, removing messenger RNA (mRNA) with sequences matching the dsRNA. As a result, the mRNA cannot be translated into protein. Dr Fire and Dr Mello found that dsRNA was much more effective in gene silencing than the previously described method of RNA interference with single-stranded RNA. Because only small numbers of dsRNA molecules were required for the observed effect, Dr Fire and Dr Mello proposed that a catalytic process was involved. This hypothesis was confirmed by subsequent research. Dr Fire was also a recipient of the Meyenburg Prize (2002), NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2003), Wiley Prize (2003) and Massry Prize (2005) prior to be awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.