RNA Interference as a Resistance Mechanism against Crop Parasites in Africa: a 'Trojan horse' Approach.
Alakonya, Amos E.
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Biological crop pests cause serious economic losses. In Africa, the most prevalent parasites are insect pests, plant pathogenic root-knot nematodes, viruses and parasitic plants. African smallholder farmers struggle to overcome these parasitic constraints to agricultural production. Crop losses and the host range of these parasites have continued to increase in spite of the use of widely advocated control methods. A sustainable method to overcome biological pests in Africa would be to develop crop germplasm resistant to parasites. This is achievable using either genetic modification (GM) or a non-GM approach. However, there is a paucity of resistant genes available for introduction. Additionally, the biological processes underpinning host parasite resistance are not sufficiently well understood. The authors review a technology platform for using RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) as bioengineered resistance to important crop parasites in Africa. To achieve acquired resistance, a host crop is stably transformed with a transgene that encodes a hairpin RNA targeting essential parasitic genes. The RNAi sequence is chosen in such a way that it shares no homology with the host's genes, so it remains 'inactive' until parasitism. Upon parasitism, the RNAi sequence enters the parasite and post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) mechanisms are activated, leading to the death of the parasite.