There are estimated to be 10 quintillion insects in the world so it’s no wonder that some of them are going to want to share our food, our gardens and our houses. ( While some of these little critters are beneficial, others are detrimental and thriving due to human influence. How can we protect beneficial insects used in integrated pest management programs while removing voracious leaf eating pests like the Colorado Potato Beetle? Greenlight Biosciences has an environmentally friendly, easy to use, economical solution that targets specific pests and spares other insects in the ecosystem.

Colorado Potato Beetle on a potato plant,

In 2015 when CEO Andrey Zarur heard about the huge challenge faced by agriculture in finding new solutions for environmentally friendly pest control, he saw enormous potential in the application of his company’s powerful core technology to help feed our ever-growing population in an environmentally sustainable and economical manner. That core technology was cell-free synthesis. The three founders of Greenlight Biosciences, founded in 2009, launched a plan and now 3 years later with 72 employees and three company locations (RTP, NC; Boston, MA; St. Louis, MO) they have their cell-free synthesis system optimized for RNA that can not only produce low cost double-stranded RNA, but it:

  • Targets specific insects
  • Spares other insects
  • Uses naturally occurring materials, nontoxic to environment
  • Is economical for farmers to use

Crop protection is a $50 billion industry with limited new solutions presented over the last 30 years (Sparks and Lorsbach 2017; DOI:10.1021/ bk-2017-1264.ch001). Many of the insecticides on the market non-specifically target insects’ digestive or neurological system. This means that many insects coming in contact with them are unintentionally affected. Additionally, the heavy use of insecticides on crops has led to resistant insects, leaving few methods for control. Greenlight Biosciences has produced a method for large scale production of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) that eliminates the targeted plant eating insect. Unlike most pesticides, dsRNA is naturally occurring in the environment, is non-toxic, degrades quickly and is targeted to affect only one species. It works by being sprayed onto the crops at the necessary intervals. The insect (ex. Colorado Potato Beetle) consumes the dsRNA on the leaves and the dsRNA targets cells in the digestive tract causing the Colorado Potato Beetle to stop eating the plant. The insects eventually die within the field. Any animal (including humans) that consumes the insects or the plant at any time are not affected. The GreenLight team is collaborating with NCSU and Duke to expand the options for the use of dsRNA to target pests in agriculture. Great news for our friendly insects such as the ladybird beetle, green lacewing and honey bee!

Tomato plants at the Duke Greenhouse

The cell-free platform GreenLight Biosciences has created can produce industrial quantities of dsRNA at prices that enable the commercialization of crop protection products. The products will help protect yield and bring new crop protection solutions that will preserve the local ecosystem and species diversity. This summer GreenLight’s field trials showed excellent protection for Colorado Potato Beetle in a potato crop across three different states. Additional field trials will take place this coming summer of 2019 with this, plus expanded products, in development. Release of their first product is expected to occur in the early 2020s. Greenlight Biosciences has additional products currently undergoing testing including other insect targets, anti-fungal products, as well as animal and human mRNA vaccines. They are currently acquiring sources for Series E financing. For more information visit their website or contact them using the information below.

Greenlight Biosciences lab at First Flight Venture Center


Greenlight Biosciences
2 Davis Drive | RTP, NC 27709
Bridey Maxwell, Ph.D. | Head of Plant Science Innovation
Phone: 919.225.9965
Email: [email protected]

First flight Venture Center
2 Davis Drive | RTP, NC 27709
Bridget McMinn
Phone: 919.360.1245
Email: [email protected]