Expression of double-stranded RNAs in plastids offers great potential for the efficient control of chewing insects. However, many insect pests do not consume plant tissue but rather feed on the host plant by sucking sap from the vascular system. Whether or not plastid-mediated RNA interference (RNAi) can be employed to control sap-sucking insects is unknown. Here, we show that five species of sap-sucking hemipteran insects acquire plastid RNA upon feeding on plants. We generated both nuclear transgenic and transplastomic tobacco plants expressing double-stranded RNAs targeting the MpDhc64C gene, a newly identified efficient target gene of RNAi whose silencing causes lethality to the green peach aphid Myzus persicae. In a whole-plant bioassay, transplastomic plants exhibited significant resistance to aphids, as evidenced by reduced insect survival, impaired fecundity, and decreased weight of survivors. The protective effect was comparable with that conferred by the best-performing nuclear transgenic plants. We found that the proportion of aphids on mature leaves of transplastomic plants was significantly lower compared with that of nuclear transgenic plants. When aphids were allowed to infest only the mature leaves, transplastomic plants grew significantly faster and were overall better protected from the pest compared with nuclear transgenic plants. When monitored by electrical-penetration-graph analyses and aphid avoidance response experiments, the insects displayed remarkable alterations in feeding behavior, which was different in nuclear transgenic and transplastomic plants, likely reflecting specific avoidance strategies to toxic RNA molecules. Taken together, our study demonstrates that plastid-mediated RNAi provides an efficient strategy for controlling at least some sap-sucking insect pests, even though there is most likely no or only very little chloroplast RNA in the sap.
Keywords: RNA interference; aphid; hemiptera; pest control; plastid transformation; sap-sucking insect.
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