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RNAi-mediated oncogene silencing confers resistance to crown gall tumorigenesis

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Design
  • Economics
  • Medicine


Crown gall disease, caused by the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, results in significant economic losses in perennial crops worldwide. A. tumefaciens is one of the few organisms with a well characterized horizontal gene transfer system, possessing a suite of oncogenes that, when integrated into the plant genome, orchestrate de novo auxin and cytokinin biosynthesis to generate tumors. Specifically, the iaaM and ipt oncogenes, which show ≈90% DNA sequence identity across studied A. tumefaciens strains, are required for tumor formation. By expressing two self-complementary RNA constructions designed to initiate RNA interference (RNAi) of iaaM and ipt, we generated transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana and Lycopersicon esculentum plants that are highly resistant to crown gall disease development. In in vitro root inoculation bioassays with two biovar I strains of A. tumefaciens, transgenic Arabidopsis lines averaged 0.0–1.5% tumorigenesis, whereas wild-type controls averaged 97.5% tumorigenesis. Similarly, several transformed tomato lines that were challenged by stem inoculation with three biovar I strains, one biovar II strain, and one biovar III strain of A. tumefaciens displayed between 0.0% and 24.2% tumorigenesis, whereas controls averaged 100% tumorigenesis. This mechanism of resistance, which is based on mRNA sequence homology rather than the highly specific receptor–ligand binding interactions characteristic of traditional plant resistance genes, should be highly durable. If successful and durable under field conditions, RNAi-mediated oncogene silencing may find broad applicability in the improvement of tree crop and ornamental rootstocks.

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