Scientists in Australia have developed a game-changing way to protect plants from deadly viruses.

The team from the University of Queensland (UQ) has developed BioClay to destroy them. BioClay combines RNA (ribonucleic acid), a ‘plant defence mechanism’, with clay nanoparticles in a spray that can protect plants for about 30 or 40 days. Without being embedded in the clay nanoparticles, the RNA would only be effective for a few days.

“If you think of this clay as a lasagne, several sheets, we can put our RNA inside those sheets. When we spray the clay onto the plant we have degradation over time – so it degrades and as it degrades it releases the RNA,” explained Dr Karl Robinson, Advance Queensland Research Fellow at UQ.

Viruses reduce worldwide food production by up to 40% so this is a major breakthrough in the quest to improve food security.

Agricultural biotechnologist Professor Neena Mitter, from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, had been looking for a way to develop a spray and through working with former UQ Professor Max Lu and Professor Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), she was able to do so.

It is yet another groundbreaking contribution to the development of resilient crops to stem from Australia in recent months. A new $3 million Crop Research Hub in Western Australia will focus on improving ‘crop productivity and resistance to disease‘. While a team from the Australian National University (ANU) has found a way to make plants more resilient in drought conditions.