We have shown that high-level resistance to plum pox virus (PPV) in transgenic plum clone C5 is based on post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS), otherwise termed RNA silencing (Scorza et al. Transgenic Res. 10:201-209, 2001). In order to more fully characterize RNA silencing in woody perennial crops, we investigated the production of short interfering RNA (siRNA) in transgenic plum clones C3 and C5, both of which harbor the capsid protein (CP) gene of PPV. We used as a control, plum PT-23, a clone only transformed with the two marker genes, NPTII and GUS. We show in the current report that C5 constitutively produces two classes of siRNA, the short (21-22 nucleotides) and long (≈27 nucleotides) species in the absence of PPV inoculation. Transgenic susceptible clone C3 and the control clone PT-23, when healthy, produce no siRNA. Upon infection, these clones produce only the short siRNA (21-22 nt). This siRNA production suggests that plum trees naturally respond to virus infection by initiating PTGS or PTGS-like mechanisms. This study also suggests that high-level virus resistance in woody perennials may require the production of both the short and long size classes of siRNA, as are produced by the resistant C5 plum clone.
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