RNA interference as an aphid management tool (PhD)

Project number 21120079

Lead partners Rothamsted Research

Start date January 2020

End date January 2023

AHDB funding £72,300

Total funding £72,300

The challenge

Aphids can reduce crop yield and/or quality. Some economically important species have developed resistance against several insecticide classes. This has resulted in significant control failures and losses in protected crops. Regulatory constraints on pesticide availability have exacerbated the situation. As a result, alternative control methods are required. Used in functional genomics, RNA interference (RNAi) is a reverse genetics tool. Recently, RNAi has shown promise as a novel agent to control agricultural insect pests.  

The project

This studentship will explore the feasibility to control aphids using RNAi and will target three key proteins:

1. The voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC)

The VGSC in aphids is highly unusual. Encoded by two genes, it has unique properties not present in the VGSCs of other insects. This novel channel presents a unique opportunity to target aphids using RNAi. The project will use RNAi experiments to silence VGSC genes in peach–potato aphids and bird–cherry oat aphids.

2. The inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor (IP3R)

The aphid IP3R receptor is also unusual. It is about 1000 amino acids larger than reported for IP3Rs in other insects. Some of the insertions are present in functionally important domains. These can be a target for RNAi. This work will target the IP3R receptor of peach–potato aphid and bird–cherry oat aphid.

3. Na/K-ATPase

Na/K-ATPase maintains the resting potential of insect cells, which makes it a good target for RNAi. This project will conduct RNAi experiments on the aphid Na/K-ATPase alpha subunit.

The work also examine combinations of approaches and optimise delivery of RNAi to the target species.  

The benefits

This project will address several challenges, including double-stranded (ds) RNA degradation (by proteases present in the aphid gut and saliva), uptake and translocation of the dsRNA in crop plants (that the aphids feed upon) and development of topical delivery methods (to achieve a sufficient dose). The knowledge generated will be relevant to other sucking insects (e.g. hoppers, shield bugs and whitefly). Ultimately, the project aims to help develop a versatile RNAi based bio-aphicide that can protect several key agricultural and horticultural crops. 

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