In this conversation between plants and fungi, the organisms rely on a well-worn mechanism of gene-expression regulation that has stood the test of evolutionary time: RNA interference (RNAi). Listening in on the RNA crosstalk between plants and their pathogens could reveal previously unknown facets of basic plant biology, and point the way toward a successful strategy to fend off crop pathogens.
Over the past decade, scientists have demonstrated RNAi’s ability to protect numerous plants against nonviral pathogenic foes….
Researchers have already completed a field experiment that demonstrates the effectiveness of engineering plants to send interfering RNAs to fight off fungal pathogens.
“This is an area we’re definitely watching,” says John Pitkin, the Global Disease Management Lead at Monsanto. “It clearly looks like there’s movement of RNA between plants and fungi through the expression of transgenes. Whether those reach the level of commercial efficacy is still in question.”
Despite lingering questions about the function of cross-kingdom RNAi, its use in the lab is becoming a powerful tool for experimentation. The mere ability to control the gene expression of pest organisms with transgenic plants has opened up research opportunities previously closed to scientists.
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