U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government


Main content area

Enhancement of Bacillus thuringiensis toxicity by feeding Spodoptera littoralis larvae with bacteria expressing immune suppressive dsRNA

Caccia, S., Astarita, F., Barra, E., Di Lelio, I., Varricchio, P., Pennacchio, F.
Journal of pest science 2020 v.93 no.1 pp. 303-314
Bacillus thuringiensis, Escherichia coli, RNA interference, Spodoptera littoralis, antagonists, artificial diets, bacteria, biopesticides, digestive system, double-stranded RNA, ecosystem services, encapsulation, entomopathogens, environmental degradation, genes, immune response, immunosuppression, insect control, insect immunity, insect larvae, insect pests, instars, moths, nodulation, oral administration, phenotype, toxicity, toxins
RNAi interference (RNAi) for insect pest control is often used to silence genes controlling vital functions, thus generating lethal phenotypes. Here, we propose a novel approach, based on the knockout of an immune gene by dsRNA-expressing bacteria as a strategy to enhance the impact of spray applications of the entomopathogen Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The target gene, Sl 102, controls the encapsulation and nodulation responses in the noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). To deliver Sl 102 dsRNA, we have developed a bacterial expression system, using HT115 Escherichia coli. This allows a much cheaper production of dsRNA and its protection against degradation. Transformed bacteria (dsRNA-Bac) administered through artificial diet proved to be more effective than dsRNA synthesized in vitro, both in terms of gene silencing and immunosuppression. This is a likely consequence of reduced dsRNA environmental degradation and of its protected release in the harsh conditions of the gut. The combined oral administration with artificial diet of dsRNA-Bac and of a Bt-based biopesticide (Xentari™) resulted in a remarkable enhancement of Bt killing activity, both on 4th and 5th instar larvae of S. littoralis, either when the two components were simultaneously administered or when gene silencing was obtained before Bt exposure. These results pave the way toward the development of novel Bt spray formulations containing killed dsRNA-Bac, which synergize Bt toxins by suppressing the insect immune response. This strategy will preserve the long-term efficacy of Bt-based products and can, in principle, enhance the ecological services provided by insect natural antagonists.