An RNAi-Based Control of Fusarium graminearum Infections Through Spraying of Long dsRNAs Involves a Plant Passage and Is Controlled by the Fungal Silencing Machinery
Meeting the increasing food and energy demands of a growing population will require the development of ground-breaking strategies that promote sustainable plant production. Host-induced gene silencing has shown great potential for controlling pest and diseases in crop plants. However, while delivery of inhibitory noncoding double-stranded (ds)RNA ... by transgenic expression is a promising concept, it requires the generation of transgenic crop plants which may cause substantial delay for application strategies depending on the transformability and genetic stability of the crop plant species. Using the agronomically important barley Fusarium graminearum pathosystem, we alternatively demonstrate that a spray application of a long noncoding dsRNA (791 nt CYP3-dsRNA), which targets the three fungal cytochrome P450 lanosterol C-14a-demethylases, required for biosynthesis of fungal ergosterol, inhibits fungal growth in the directly sprayed (local) as well as the non-sprayed (distal) parts of detached leaves. Unexpectedly, efficient spray-induced control of fungal infections in the distal tissue involved passage of CYP3-dsRNA via the plant vascular system and processing into small interfering (si)RNAs by fungal DICER-LIKE 1 (FgDCL-1) after uptake by the pathogen. We discuss important consequences of this new finding on future RNA-based disease control strategies. Given the ease of design, high specificity, and applicability to diverse pathogens, the use of target-specific dsRNA as an anti-fungal agent offers unprecedented potential as a new plant protection strategy.