Wheat School: Looking at RNAi technology for wireworm control

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Wireworms are one of the biggest insect pests for cereals across the Prairies.

Not only can they cause extreme damage to the crop, they are incredibly difficult to control.

John Laurie, research scientist of molecular biology with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and Haley Catton, research scientist of field crop entomology at AAFC, have been working on ways to further understand the insect, and develop more control options.

Although still in the early stages, the duo is working with RNA technology, so they can see which RNA are expressed within the cell of their target species.

“Last summer, Haley and her group collected the larvae and beetles from our target species,” explains Laurie. “In my lab, we extracted RNA, sent that out to a facility to sequence it. It came back, and now we’ve assembled the sequences and have a list of all the expressed genes. So from published literature, and other groups that do RNAi, we have some favourite genes that we’re looking to target right away.” (Story continues below video)

When it came to determining which species of wireworm to target, Catton says 15 years of research pointed them towards three different species, which make up approximately 90-95 per cent of the species across the Prairies.

“We determined which ones to focus on, the most abundant three. And then, if we find some success, we can adapt to other species as needed,” she says.

There’s a lot of hope for the study and the specific type of technology, explains Laurie.

“We know the pathways exist in these organisms and in other studies in similar organisms, so it’s been demonstrated that the RNAi can work to a certain degree. So we just need to apply some of that knowledge with these target genes that we have in mind, and to see how it works in these particular species.”

The goal eventually is to develop a seed coat technology that will protect the seed in the soil, as well as protect developing seedlings for a certain amount of time.

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