A transgenic approach to control hemipteran insects by expressing insecticidal genes under phloem-specific promoters
The first generation transgenic crops used strong constitutive promoters for transgene expression. However, tissue-specific expression is desirable for more precise targeting of transgenes. Moreover, piercing/sucking insects, which are generally resistant to insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins, have emerged as a major pests since the introduction of transgenic crops expressing these toxins. Phloem-specific promoters isolated from Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) were used for the expression of two insecticidal proteins, Hadronyche versuta (Blue Mountains funnel-web spider) neurotoxin (Hvt) and onion leaf lectin, in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). Here we demonstrate that transgenic plants expressing Hvt alone or in combination with onion leaf lectin are resistant to Phenacoccus solenopsis (cotton mealybug), Myzus persicae (green peach aphids) and Bemisia tabaci (silver leaf whitefly). The expression of both proteins under different phloem-specific promoters resulted in close to 100% mortality and provided more rapid protection than Hvt alone. Our results suggest the employment of the Hvt and onion leaf lectin transgenic constructs at the commercial level will reduce the use of chemical pesticides for control of hemipteran insect pests.