RNA silencing is a conserved mechanism in eukaryotes that plays an important role in various biological processes including regulation of gene expression. RNA silencing also plays a role in genome stability and protects plants against invading nucleic acids such as transgenes and viruses. Recently, RNA silencing has been found to play a role in defence against bacterial plant pathogens in Arabidopsis through modulating host defence responses. In this study, it is shown that gene silencing plays a role in plant defence against multicellular microbial pathogens; vascular fungi belonging to the Verticillium genus. Several components of RNA silencing pathways were tested, of which many were found to affect Verticillium defence. Remarkably, no altered defence towards other fungal pathogens that include Alternaria brassicicola, Botrytis cinerea, and Plectosphaerella cucumerina, but also the vascular pathogen Fusarium oxysporum, was recorded. Since the observed differences in Verticillium susceptibility cannot be explained by notable differences in root architecture, it is speculated that the gene silencing mechanisms affect regulation of Verticillium-specific defence responses.

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