The project aims to investigate the transmission mechanisms of phytoplasmas, focusing on Flavescence dorée phytoplasma (FDp) and Chrysanthemum yellows phytoplasma (CYp). Phytoplasmas are plant pathogenic bacteria transmitted by sap-feeding insects belonging to the order Hemiptera and associated with many diseases that cause severe economic impacts on many crops worldwide.
This project will apply gene silencing techniques mediated by RNA interference (RNA interference or RNAi) in order to deepen the study of genes and insect metabolic pathways involved in the interaction with phytoplasmas, and, more specifically, in the acquisition and transmission mechanisms of the these pathogens. The techniques that will be used during this project are internationally considered among the most promising and innovative for the development of new tools for the biocontrol of insects pests, because these approaches are characterized by a) an extreme selectivity towards the species against which they are developed and b) the possibility of functionally characterizing and manipulating insect metabolisms in vivo. Currently the strategies against phytoplasma diseases are largely based on insecticide treatments to reduce the vector population. New data on the acquisition and transmission of the phytoplasma could be used to interfere with its epidemiological cycle, providing additional tools to integrate / replace insecticide treatments towards a more sustainable agriculture. In particular, the project could have a significant impact on the viticulture of the Piedmont area, where the economic impact of Flavescence dorée is one of the heaviest in Southern Europe.