Intron-assisted, viroid-based production of insecticidal circular double-stranded RNA in Escherichia coli.RNA Biol. 2021 11; 18(11):1846-1857.RB
RNA interference (RNAi) is a natural mechanism for protecting against harmful genetic elements and regulating gene expression, which can be artificially triggered by the delivery of homologous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). This mechanism can be exploited as a highly specific and environmentally friendly pest control strategy. To this aim, systems for producing large amounts of recombinant dsRNA are necessary. We describe a system to efficiently produce large amounts of circular dsRNA in Escherichia coli and demonstrate the efficient insecticidal activity of these molecules against Western corn rootworm (WCR, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte), a highly damaging pest of corn crops. In our system, the two strands of the dsRNA are expressed in E. coli embedded within the very stable scaffold of Eggplant latent viroid (ELVd), a small circular non-coding RNA. Stability in E. coli of the corresponding plasmids with long inverted repeats was achieved by using a cDNA coding for a group-I autocatalytic intron from Tetrahymena thermophila as a spacer. RNA circularization and large-scale accumulation in E. coli cells was facilitated by co-expression of eggplant tRNA ligase, the enzyme that ligates ELVd during replication in the host plant. The inserted intron efficiently self-spliced from the RNA product during transcription. Circular RNAs containing a dsRNA moiety homologous to smooth septate junction 1 (DvSSJ1) gene exhibited excellent insecticide activity against WCR larvae. Finally, we show that the viroid scaffold can be separated from the final circular dsRNA product using a second T. thermophila self-splicing intron in a permuted form.