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Targeted Delivery of Gene Silencing in Fungi Using Genetically Engineered Bacteria.


Exploiting RNA interference (RNAi) in disease control through non-transformative methods that overcome the hurdle of producing transgenic plants has attracted much attention over the last years. Here, we explored such a method and used non-pathogenic bacteria as a versatile system for delivering RNAi to fungi. Specifically, the RNaseIII-null mutant strain of Escherichia coli HT115(DE3) was transformed with two plasmid vectors that enabled the constitutive or IPTG-inducible production of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) against genes involved in aflatoxins production in Aspergillus flavus (AflC) or virulence of Botrytis cinerea (BcSAS1). To facilitate the release of the dsRNAs, the bacterial cells were further genetically engineered to undergo a bacteriophage endolysin R-mediated autolysis, following a freeze-thaw cycle. Exposure under in vitro conditions of A. flavus or B. cinerea to living bacteria or their whole-cell autolysates induced silencing of AflC and BcSAS1 in a bacteria concentration-dependent manner, and instigated a reduction in aflatoxins production and mycelial growth, respectively. In planta applications of the living bacteria or their crude whole-cell autolysates produced similar results, thus creating a basis for translational research. These results demonstrate that bacteria can produce biologically active dsRNA against target genes in fungi and that bacteria-mediated RNAi can be used to control fungal pathogens.

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