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Jean-Michel Hily, Michel Ravelonandro, Vern Damsteegt, Carole Bassett, Cesar Petri, Zongrang Liu and Ralph Scorza

Constructs with self-complementary sequences separated by an intron produce “hairpin” RNA [intron-hairpin-RNA (ihpRNA)] structures that efficiently elicit posttranscriptional gene silencing (PTGS). In the current study, the authors use this technology to confer resistance to plum pox virus (PPV) in herbaceous and woody perennial plants by silencing the PPV–coat protein (CP) gene. The authors confirmed the high capacity of ihpRNA constructs for inducing RNA silencing in Nicotiana benthamiana Domin., as more than 75% of the transformants displayed PTGS as evaluated by specific small interfering RNA (siRNA) production. The authors demonstrated that ihpRNA constructs provided PPV resistance, and they found a correlation between the length of the PPV sequence introduced in the ihpRNA constructs and the frequency of transgenic-resistant plants. Plants transformed with the full-length sequence produced a higher percentage of resistant lines. The authors further demonstrated for the first time that ihpRNA technology is applicable to a woody perennial species. A transgenic plum (Prunus domestica L.) PPV-CP ihpRNA line showed gene silencing characteristics (hypermethylation of the transgene sequence and specific siRNA production) and resistance to PPV infection 16 months after inoculation.

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Ralph Scorza, Laurene Levy, Vern Damsteegt, Luz Marcel Yepes, John Cordts, Ahmed Hadidi, Jerry Slightom and Dennis Gonsalves

Transgenic plum plants expressing the papaya ringspot virus (PRV) coat protein (CP) were produced by Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of hypocotyl slices. Hypocotyl slices were cocultivated with Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain C58/Z707 containing the plasmid pGA482GG/CPPRV-4. This plasmid carries the PRVCP gene construct and chimeric NPTII and GUS genes. Shoots were regenerated on Murashige and Skoog salts, vitamins, 2% sucrose, 2.5 μm indolebutyric acid, 7.5 μm thidiazuron, and appropriate antibiotics for selection. Integration of the foreign genes was verified through kanamycin resistance, GUS assays, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and Southern blot analyses. Four transgenic clones were identified. Three were vegetatively propagated and graft-inoculated with plum pox virus (PPV)-infected budwood in a quarantine, containment greenhouse. PPV infection was evaluated over a 2- to 4-year period through visual symptoms, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and reverse transcriptase PCR assays. While most plants showed signs of infection and systemic spread of PPV within l-6 months, one plant appeared to delay the spread of virus and the appearance of disease symptoms. Virus spread was limited to basal portions of this plant up to 19 months postinoculation, but, after 32 months symptoms were evident and virus was detected throughout the plant. Our results suggest that heterologous protection with PRVCP, while having the potential to delay PPV symptoms and spread throughout plum plants, may not provide an adequate level of long-term resistance.

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Ralph Scorza, Michel Ravelonandro, Ann Callahan, Ioan Zagrai, Jaroslav Polak, Tadeuz Malinowski, Mariano Cambra, Laurene Levy, Vern Damsteegt, Boris Krška, John Cordts, Dennis Gonsalves and Chris Dardick