Syngenta RNA-based Biocontrols Corporate Innovation Proposal

iGEM teams are encouraged to apply for additional funding from Syngenta to think about areas of innovation surrounding RNA-based Biocontrols.

Syngenta is providing this grant opportunity for iGEMers to explore how to best demonstrate the value of new tools for the future of agriculture and food production.

The following provides a targeted example of what we are looking for (RNA-based biocontrols), however we encourage any iGEM team working with RNA/RNAi and/or in the manufacturing, food & nutrition, or new application tracks to consider this opportunity.

Creating synergy between farms and society

Food security is a major challenge for the world today. The opportunity to create agricultural innovations means more people can be fed per hectare, while reducing stress on the land, animals, and environment. While technology is part of the solution society generally accepts, recent data show many still believe fewer chemicals should be used. Similarly, while organic, local farming practices are favored, less than 20% of us believe it can be the sole solution to feeding a growing population (The Agricultural Disconnect, 9/14). With the widening complexity and tradeoffs facing farmers, win-win solutions are becoming rarer.

Biocontrols – a method of using the power of natural biology to reach a desired result in the field – are an effective solution to bridge societal and grower needs and allow farmers to be productive and environmentally conscious. As a pioneer in this area, Syngenta is developing a portfolio of RNA-based biocontrols that act through a natural RNAi process.

How an RNA-based biocontrol works:

1. The RNA-based biocontrol, which is double-stranded RNA, is sprayed onto the plant. 2. The pest eats the biocontrol which is taken up into the pest’s cells. The RNAi process is triggered, which stops synthesis of the essential protein in the target pest, controlling the pest before it can cause too much damage to the crop. 3. The pest is controlled and the plant matures to yield its crop. Non-target insects are not affected due to the selectivity of the RNA-based biocontrol.

Areas of opportunity for innovation

The challenge with RNA-based biocontrols is finding the balance between scaling up the use of this highly effective agricultural tool while also being able to clearly demonstrate the value to multiple stakeholders. Syngenta and other developers of this tool must show clear demonstration of value creation through both the technological development (what this tool is developed to support) and communication development (how the tool is effectively explained and rolled out).

We are looking for iGEMers to explore technical practices that take into account the implementation of such a tool, which also involves thinking through human practices.

Technical: Manufacturing Resilient RNA-based biocontrols

Many new tools, approaches, and perspectives are changing the face of manufacturing, and the associated research and development. The questions below hope to inspire solutions for enhancing both the efficiency and storyline of the manufacturing process of RNA-based biocontrols.

  • There are multiple methods to produce and scale the double stranded RNA (dsRNA) that is used to initiate the RNAi process. Bacterial production has shown promise in this regards; we are interested in alternative ideas – what other biological systems (e.g. other microorganisms) can be used to do this?
  • How can open data and leveraging the crowd improve on our manufacturing process and/or research and development efforts?
  • How can the public's greater access to wet labs, manufacturing machinery, and/or DIY/hacker biology movements play a role in a more effective manufacturing process?
  • What other industrial manufacturing processes should we be looking to for inspiration?

Human Practices: Addressing Societal Needs Through Showcasing Value

The potential for implementing RNA-based biocontrols with actual users requires a strong communication plan for effectively explaining their value to multiple stakeholders, while also moving the development in a way that provides long term value for more people. The questions below hope to evoke ideas around user implementation that is founded in science but built upon better understanding human practices.

  • Thinking through the process of educating a farmer about this solution, what is the most unclear concept? What is the clearest concept? How can we provide more clarity?
  • How can RNA-based biocontrols increase productivity and deliver affordable value to smallholders?
  • What is a common pop culture reference to explain RNA-based biocontrols to a non-scientific, interested person?
  • What are the pros and cons of bacterial production, how can they be best addressed? For an alternative production method?
  • What models for collaboration can Syngenta partake in to engage in a public discourse about RNA-based biocontrols?
  • How can the sharing economy participate in the rolling out of an RNA-based biocontrol?

Value for Participants

Why should students engage in this project?

  • The use of RNA-based biocontrols has great potential and your ideas can help shape the future of agriculture and food production.
  • Interact with world-class scientists, experts, and drivers of innovation in our food system.
  • Receive financial support for your research, plus follow-through connections for successful results.
  • Syngenta is genuinely interested in having the next generation take part in shaping the future of food and agriculture. iGEM is a gateway to this, and we hope you are up to the challenge.


Each selected iGEM team will develop two different kinds of scenarios relating to the project and its applications:

Application Scenarios

Application scenarios offer detailed and realistic descriptions of how RNA-based Biocontrol applications could be fully deployed and embedded in society, including: design criteria for the products proposed, target manufacturers and users of the products, the needs and costs involved, intellectual property rights, regulatory requirements, potential safety, social and ethical implications, and available or conceivable alternatives.

  • We are looking for teams to create a strategy and associated scenario for the manufacturing process by addressing the questions listed above, including the process for searching for the selected biological system, the associated public facing storylines to engage in public discourse, the ability for open sourced solutions to contribute to faster innovation (if appropriate), and the ability for alternative manufacturing processes now available to lend support to the scaling up and out of this technology (maker spaces, public wet labs, etc.).

Techno-moral Concern Scenario

A techno-moral scenario is a story, artwork, or other tool to stimulate imagination, reflection and debate about ways in which RNA-based biocontrol applications may positively transform our society through wider impacts, including ethical, legal and social issues.

  • Create a strategy and associated scenario for how this new solution could be rolled out to farmers for use, the storyline for consumers of the food under this process, and how to communicate the benefits of this technology (with sample articles, social media posts, and mock interviews with an RNA-biocontrol scientist, as they would play out in an ideal situation).

So how can my team apply?

We're looking for a two page proposal describing how your team would address each of the two scenarios described in the requirements section above. Please submit either a word .docx file or a .pdf. Once you have written your two page proposal, please send it to the email address in the button below with "iGEM proposal" in the subject line:


(Or send email to steven.wall AT syngenta DOT com)

Deadline: June 30, 2016!

We're looking to fund between 4 - 7 teams, depending on the quality of the applications. If successful, your team should plan to talk about this work during your presentation and attend the Syngenta Jamboree workshop.

If you have any questions, please email HQ [AT] iGEM [DOT] org with the subject line "Syngenta corporate innovation proposal question'.