Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kansas — A Kansas City area company has agreed to pursue commercial opportunities for a scientific discovery by Kansas State University that promises to make insect control much safer for humans and other animals.

TechAccel signed a licensing agreement recently with the Kansas State University Research Foundation allowing the company to utilize a recent discovery that effectively silences an essential gene in a target insect, causing it to die.

TechAccel specializes in accelerating new technologies by forming partnerships with companies capable of developing consumer products. The company has a specific interest in advancing discoveries related to food production and quality, and animal health.

The technology — developed by Kansas State University entomology professor Kun Yan Zhu and his colleagues — utilizes double-stranded RNA, or dsRNA, which is a synthesized molecule that can trigger a biological process known as RNA interference, or RNAi, to destroy the genetic material of an insect in a sequence-specific manner.

Specifically, Zhu's discovery allows for nanoparticles comprised of a nontoxic, biodegradable matrix and insect derived dsRNA. His laboratory has studied the use of this technology extensively on mosquitoes.

Once ingested, the nanoparticles release the loosely bound dsRNA into the insect's gut, eventually killing the insect without the use of pesticides.

The Kansas State University Research Foundation was awarded a patent for the discovery in 2014, and has since sought partners to help move the technology to application.

Zhu said that the technology greatly increases the safety for insect control because of its high specificity in targeting genes. For example, a cockroach bait can be designed to kill cockroaches without risk to a family pet or child because the dsRNA used for the bait is designed for a specific gene sequence of the cockroach.

More broadly, nanoparticles utilizing dsRNA can be developed to trigger a deadly chain reaction in many undesired insects, such as those that affect agricultural crops as well as many household pests. TechAccel will now be the conduit by which those applications make it to companies across the world.

"We see great promise in this technology as a nonchemical, biodegradable approach to pest control," said TechAccel President and CEO Michael Helmstetter. "One of the great benefits of Kansas State University teaming with TechAccel on this innovation is we plan to conduct research not only targeted at crop and plant insect protection, but also other diverse applications such as virus resistance in aquacultured seafood."

Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz said the agreement will contribute to the state's well-being.

"Our strategic vision for 2025 includes being a major contributor to our state's economic growth," Schulz said. "Discoveries such as this are further proof that the research being done at our university has real-world applications. These are ideas that improve our livelihood, and the type of work that will help us become a top 50 public research university."

The Kansas State University Research Foundation and university's Institute for Commercialization worked to establish the partnership with TechAccel.