Profiling of RNAi sensitivity after foliar dsRNA exposure in different European populations of Colorado potato beetle reveals a robust response with minor variability

Mehlhorn, S.G., S. Geibel, G. Bucher, R. Nauen. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology, Volume 166, June 2020, 104569, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pestbp.2020.104569

In recent years, substantial effort was spent on the exploration and implementation of RNAi technology using double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) for pest management purposes. However, only few studies investigated the geographical variation in RNAi sensitivity present in field-collected populations of the targeted insect pest. In this baseline study, 2nd instar larvae of 14 different European populations of Colorado potato beetle (CPB), Leptinotarsa decemlineata, collected from nine different countries were exposed to a foliarly applied diagnostic dose of dsactin (dsact) to test for possible variations in RNAi response. Only minor variability in RNAi sensitivity was observed between populations. However, the time necessary to trigger a dsRNA-mediated phenotypic response varied significantly among populations, indicated by significant differences in mortality figures obtained five days after treatment. An inbred German laboratory reference strain D01 and a Spanish field strain E02 showed almost 100% mortality after foliar exposure to 30 ng dsactin (equal to 0.96 g/ha), whereas another Spanish strain E01 was least responsive and showed only 30% mortality. Calculated LD50-values for foliarly applied dsact against strains D01 (most sensitive) and E01 (least sensitive) were 9.22 and 68.7 ng/leaf disc, respectively. The variability was not based on target gene sequence divergence or knock-down efficiency. Variability in expression of the core RNAi machinery genes dicer (dcr2a) and argonaute (ago2a) was observed but did not correlate with sensitivity. Interestingly, RT-qPCR data collected for all strains revealed a strong correlation between the expression level of dcr2a and ago2a (r 0.93) as well as ago2a and stauC (r 0.94), a recently described dsRNA binding protein in Coleopterans. Overall, this study demonstrates that sensitivity of CPB to sprayable RNAi slightly varies between strains but also shows that foliar RNAi as a control method works against all tested CPB populations collected across a broad geographic range in Europe. Thus, underpinning the potential of RNAi-based CPB control as a promising component in integrated pest management (IPM) and resistance management programs.