Virus-induced gene silencing of WRKY53 and an inducible phenylalanine ammonia-lyase in wheat reduces aphid resistance

Leon Van Eck, Thia Schultz, Jan E. Leach, Steven R. Scofield, Frank B. Peairs, Anna Maria Botha, Nora L.V. Lapitan

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Although several wheat genes differentially expressed during the Russian wheat aphid resistance response have recently been identified, their requirement for and specific role in resistance remain unclear. Progress in wheat-aphid interaction research is hampered by inadequate collections of mutant germplasm and difficulty in transforming hexaploid wheat. Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) technology is emerging as a viable reverse genetics approach in cereal crops. However, the potential of VIGS for determining aphid defence gene function in wheat has not been evaluated. We report on the use of recombinant barley stripe mosaic virus (BSMV) to target and silence a WRKY53 transcription factor and an inducible phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) gene, both predicted to contribute to aphid defence in a genetically resistant wheat line. After inoculating resistant wheat with the VIGS constructs, transcript abundance was reduced to levels similar to that observed in susceptible wheat. Notably, the level of PAL expression was also suppressed by the WKRY53 construct, suggesting that these genes operate in the same defence response network. Both knockdowns exhibited a susceptible phenotype upon aphid infestation, and aphids feeding on silenced plants exhibited a significant increase in fitness compared to aphids feeding on control plants. Altered plant phenotype and changes in aphid behaviour after silencing imply that WKRY53 and PAL play key roles in generating a successful resistance response. This study is the first report on the successful use of VIGS to investigate genes involved in wheat-insect interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1023-1032
Number of pages10
JournalPlant Biotechnology Journal
Issue number9
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Diuraphis noxia
  • Functional genomics
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • RNA interference (RNAi)
  • Triticum aestivum
  • Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS)


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