Planta 255(2) , 37 ( )
Main conclusionA WRKY transcription factor identified through forward genetics is associated with sorghum resistance to the sugarcane aphid and through heterologous expression reduces aphid populations in multiple plant species.AbstractCrop plant resistance to insect pests is based on genetically encoded traits which often display variability across diverse germplasm. In a comparatively recent event, a predominant sugarcane aphid (SCA: Melanaphis sacchari) biotype has become a significant agronomic pest of grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). To uncover candidate genes underlying SCA resistance, we used a forward genetics approach combining the genetic diversity present in the Sorghum Association Panel (SAP) and the Bioenergy Association Panel (BAP) for a genome-wide association study, employing an established SCA damage rating. One major association was found on Chromosome 9 within the WRKY transcription factor 86 (SbWRKY86). Transcripts encoding SbWRKY86 were previously identified as upregulated in SCA-resistant germplasm and the syntenic ortholog in maize accumulates following Rhopalosiphum maidis infestation. Analyses of SbWRKY86 transcripts displayed patterns of increased SCA-elicited accumulation in additional SCA-resistant sorghum lines. Heterologous expression of SbWRKY86 in both tobacco (Nicotiana benthamiana) and Arabidopsis resulted in reduced population growth of green peach aphid (Myzus persicae). Comparative RNA-Seq analyses of Arabidopsis lines expressing 35S:SbWRKY86-YFP identified changes in expression for a small network of genes associated with carbon–nitrogen metabolism and callose deposition, both contributing factors to defense against aphids. As a test of altered plant responses, 35S:SbWRKY86-YFP Arabidopsis lines were activated using the flagellin epitope elicitor, flg22, and displayed significant increases in callose deposition. Our findings indicate that both heterologous and increased native expression of the transcription factor SbWRKY86 contributes to reduced aphid levels in diverse plant models.