Cyst nematodes are highly evolved sedentary plant endoparasites that use parasitism proteins injected through the stylet into host tissues to successfully parasitize plants. These secretory proteins likely are essential for parasitism as they are involved in a variety of parasitic events leading to the establishment of specialized feeding cells required by the nematode to obtain nourishment. With the advent of RNA interference (RNAi) technology and the demonstration of host-induced gene silencing in parasites, a new strategy to control pests and pathogens has become available, particularly in root-knot nematodes. Plant host-induced silencing of cyst nematode genes so far has had only limited success but similarly should disrupt the parasitic cycle and render the host plant resistant. Additional in planta RNAi data for cyst nematodes are being provided by targeting four parasitism genes through host-induced RNAi gene silencing in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana, which is a host for the sugar beet cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii. Here it is reported that mRNA abundances of targeted nematode genes were specifically reduced in nematodes feeding on plants expressing corresponding RNAi constructs. Furthermore, this host-induced RNAi of all four nematode parasitism genes led to a reduction in the number of mature nematode females. Although no complete resistance was observed, the reduction of developing females ranged from 23% to 64% in different RNAi lines. These observations demonstrate the relevance of the targeted parasitism genes during the nematode life cycle and, potentially more importantly, suggest that a viable level of resistance in crop plants may be accomplished in the future using this technology against cyst nematodes.
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