loping a RNA interference, or RNAi -- a short sequence of genetic information that could knock down the insect's protective genes. The RNAi could be delivered through a spray that only affects thrips or possibly even delivered to thrips by the plants themselves.
Badillo-Vargas is using a partial transcriptome of the thrip's genes that was produced by Dorith Rotenberg, research assistant professor of plant pathology. The transcriptome is a scientific tool that acts as a reference catalog for certain genes in the thrips. Rotenberg is working to sequence the thrip's genome, which will be a complete genetic blueprint of the insect and all of its genes.
"With the partial transcriptome I'm starting to look at certain genes that I believe can be silenced with RNAi because they have a potential interaction between the virus and the insect," Badillo-Vargas said. "Some of these molecules were able to be silenced in other insects when RNAi tools were used on them. In some cases it even killed the insect."
The research will build on a study by Badillo-Vargas that was published in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of Virology. It compared the differential proteins expressed by healthy thrips with those from thrips infected with the tomato spotted wilt virus. It showed that thrips have an early response to the virus infection and when the virus is the most active.
"I was thrilled to learn that Ismael had received this fellowship," said Anna Whitfield, associate professor of plant pathology and Badillo-Vargas' major adviser. "It's very competitive and many people apply, but very few are selected. It's a wonderful fellowship that will benefit Ismael professionally and advance research on tomato spotted wilt virus and thrips."