Trans-specific gene silencing between host and parasitic plants

Alexey Tomilov, Natalia B. Tomilova, Tadeusz Wroblewski, Richard W Michelmore, John I. Yoder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Species of Orobanchaceae parasitize the roots of nearby host plants to rob them of water and other nutrients. Parasitism can be debilitating to the host plant, and some of the world's most pernicious agricultural pests are parasitic weeds. We demonstrate here that interfering hairpin constructs transformed into host plants can silence expression of the targeted genes in the parasite. Transgenic roots of the hemi-parasitic plant Triphysaria versicolor expressing the GUS reporter gene were allowed to parasitize transgenic lettuce roots expressing a hairpin RNA containing a fragment of the GUS gene (hpGUS). When stained for GUS activity, Triphysaria roots attached to non-transgenic lettuce showed full GUS activity, but those parasitizing transgenic hpGUS lettuce lacked activity in root tissues distal to the haustorium. Transcript quantification indicated a reduction in the steady-state level of GUS mRNA in Triphysaria when they were attached to hpGUS lettuce. These results demonstrate that the GUS silencing signal generated by the host roots was translocated across the haustorium interface and was functional in the parasite. Movement across the haustorium was bi-directional, as demonstrated in double-junction experiments in which non-transgenic Triphysaria concomitantly parasitized two hosts, one transgenic for hpGUS and the other transgenic for a functional GUS gene. Observation of GUS silencing in the second host demonstrated that the silencing trigger could be moved from one host to another using the parasite as a physiological bridge. Silencing of parasite genes by generating siRNAs in the host provides a novel strategy for controlling parasitic weeds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-397
Number of pages9
JournalPlant Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Haustorium
  • Interfering hairpin RNA
  • Post-transcriptional gene silencing
  • Triphysaria versicolor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology
  • Genetics


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