Dr. Mark Belmont, University of Manitoba
This seminar will provide insights into the utility of next generation, RNAi-based molecular fungicides and their applicability to control crop pathogens. Sclerotina sclerotiorum, the causal agent of white mold, infects over 450 species of plants worldwide. This fungal phytopathogen has become a major threat to crops including canola which contributes $27 billion to the Canadian economy. Sclerotinia is a persistent problem for canola growers that has traditionally been managed using broad-spectrum fungicides. However, current fungicide strategies have proven to be ineffective. Thus, there is an immediate need to manage Sclerotinia using novel species-specific control methods. Our strategy exploits the inherent cellular defense process known as RNA interference (RNAi). Upon encountering a double stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecule, the cell processes the dsRNA specifically targeting transcripts with sequence homology. Sclerotinia-specific target genes were identified using bioinformatics. RNAi knockdown was confirmed using qRT-PCR on RNA isolated from fungal cultures. Transgenic plants over-expressing the dsRNA showed a profound and prolonged tolerance to Sclerotinia.