Insertional mutagenesis and gene silencing are efficient tools for the determination of gene function. In contrast to gain- or loss-of-function approaches, RNA interference (RNAi)-induced gene silencing can possibly silence multigene families and homoeologous genes in polyploids. This is of great importance for functional studies in hexaploid wheat ( Triticum aestivum ), where most of the genes are present in at least three homoeologous copies and conventional insertional mutagenesis is not effective. We have introduced into bread wheat double-stranded RNA-expressing constructs containing fragments of genes encoding Phytoene Desaturase ( PDS ) or the signal transducer of ethylene, Ethylene Insensitive 2 ( EIN2 ). Transformed plants showed phenotypic changes that were stably inherited over at least two generations. These changes were very similar to mutant phenotypes of the two genes in diploid model plants. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction revealed a good correlation between decreasing mRNA levels and increasingly severe phenotypes. RNAi silencing had the same quantitative effect on all three homoeologous genes. The most severe phenotypes were observed in homozygous plants that showed the strongest mRNA reduction and, interestingly, produced around 2-fold the amount of small RNAs compared to heterozygous plants. This suggests that the effect of RNAi in hexaploid wheat is gene-dosage dependent. Wheat seedlings with low mRNA levels for EIN2 were ethylene insensitive. Thus, EIN2 is a positive regulator of the ethylene-signaling pathway in wheat, very similar to its homologs in Arabidopsis ( Arabidopsis thaliana ) and rice ( Oryza sativa ). Our data show that RNAi results in stably inherited phenotypes and therefore represents an efficient tool for functional genomic studies in polyploid wheat.
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