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Identifying potential RNAi targets in grain aphid (Sitobion avenae F.) based on transcriptome profiling of its alimentary canal after feeding on wheat plants

Min Zhang1, Yuwen Zhou2, Hui Wang1, Huw Dylan Jones3, Qiang Gao2, Dahai Wang1, Youzhi Ma1* and Lanqin Xia1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), 12 Zhongguancun South Street, Beijing 100081, China

2 Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen (BGI-Shenzhen), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen 518083, China

3 Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ, UK

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:560  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-560

Published: 16 August 2013



The grain aphid (Sitobion avenae F.) is a major agricultural pest which causes significant yield losses of wheat in China, Europe and North America annually. Transcriptome profiling of the grain aphid alimentary canal after feeding on wheat plants could provide comprehensive gene expression information involved in feeding, ingestion and digestion. Furthermore, selection of aphid-specific RNAi target genes would be essential for utilizing a plant-mediated RNAi strategy to control aphids via a non-toxic mode of action. However, due to the tiny size of the alimentary canal and lack of genomic information on grain aphid as a whole, selection of the RNAi targets is a challenging task that as far as we are aware, has never been documented previously.


In this study, we performed de novo transcriptome assembly and gene expression analyses of the alimentary canals of grain aphids before and after feeding on wheat plants using Illumina RNA sequencing. The transcriptome profiling generated 30,427 unigenes with an average length of 664 bp. Furthermore, comparison of the transcriptomes of alimentary canals of pre- and post feeding grain aphids indicated that 5490 unigenes were differentially expressed, among which, diverse genes and/or pathways were identified and annotated. Based on the RPKM values of these unigenes, 16 of them that were significantly up or down-regulated upon feeding were selected for dsRNA artificial feeding assay. Of these, 5 unigenes led to higher mortality and developmental stunting in an artificial feeding assay due to the down-regulation of the target gene expression. Finally, by adding fluorescently labelled dsRNA into the artificial diet, the spread of fluorescence signal in the whole body tissues of grain aphid was observed.


Comparison of the transcriptome profiles of the alimentary canals of pre- and post-feeding grain aphids on wheat plants provided comprehensive gene expression information that could facilitate our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying feeding, ingestion and digestion. Furthermore, five novel and effective potential RNAi target genes were identified in grain aphid for the first time. This finding would provide a fundamental basis for aphid control in wheat through plant mediated RNAi strategy.

Grain aphid (Sitobion avenae F.); Alimentary canal; Transcriptome profile; Double strand RNA (dsRNA); Artificial feeding assay; RNA interference (RNAi); Aphid control