Oral ingestion of bacterially expressed dsRNA can silence genes and cause mortality in a highly invasive, tree-killing pest, the emerald ash borer.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a naturally occurring process inhibiting gene expression, and recent advances in our understanding of the mechanism have allowed its development as a tool against insect pests. A major challenge for deployment in the field is the development of convenient and efficient methods for production of double stranded RNA (dsRNA). We assessed the potential for deploying bacterially produced dsRNA as a bio-pesticide against an invasive forest pest, the emerald ash borer (EAB). EAB feeds on the cambial tissue of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), causing rapid death. EAB has killed millions of trees in North America since its discovery in 2002, prompting the need for innovative management strategies. In our study, bacterial expression and synthesis of dsRNA were performed with E. coli strain HT115 using the L4440 expression vector. EAB-specific dsRNAs (shi and hsp) over-expressed in E. coli were toxic to neonate EAB after oral administration, successfully triggering gene silencing and subsequent mortality; however, a non-specific dsRNA control was not included. Our results suggest that ingestion of transformed E. coli expressing dsRNAs can induce an RNAi response in EAB. To our knowledge, this is the first example of an effective RNAi response induced by feeding dsRNA-expressing bacteria in a forest pest.