The team is planning to proceed with the development of OakShield in the next Maastricht Science Programme project period. After that, the research will be continued further by some team members, for instance in the context of Bachelor thesis research.

One aim is to sequence the whole genome of the Oak Processionary in order to be able to search for more or better target genes. Moreover, it is planned to exploit the transkingdom RNA interference mechanism to allow enhanced shRNA delivery to target cells. Another idea, the team is planning to implement into the future insecticide, is to incorporate an OPC signalling chemical to improve both efficiency and specificity. This signalling compound, which enables the OPC to move in processions, is not well studied yet but it is considered to have high potential as a luring agent in OakShield.

One measure for improved safety of OakShield is to implement a kill switch for the GM bacteria. This would be of importance especially in the registration process of our insecticide. Lastly, the team is planning to adapt OakShield to other test species as well, for instance the Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). This would be feasible, as only the specific shRNAs would have to be redesigned after a proof of concept of our general approach is given.

The insecticide could be distributed by spraying with tractors, just as current bacterial insecticides such as Bacillus thuringiensis.

OakShield could be produced on a large scale and sold on our website. The production would require large bioreactors. In our interview with Sarah Perfect from Syngenta, we learned that the technology and capacity for the production of such biological products made by fermentation is available. Especially the production of our backup pesticide, a pure RNA extract, would be feasible. As OakShield requires highly specific shRNA production by E. coli, the sequences coding for these shRNAs would have to be checked frequently to avoid a decrease in effectivity and specificity of the insecticide caused by mutations on the E. coli plasmid.

There would be a quite large range of end users of our OakShield. They would include affected municipalities, which need to distribute the pesticide for example in schools, parks, kindergartens or playgrounds. Considering numerous parks and playgrounds forced to close because of OPC infestation, this spraying would contribute immensely to the well-being and health of children and the public in general. Another group of OakShield end users would be forest services and private landowners, which would use OakShield for example on plagued campsites, in nature reserves, or on agricultural land.


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