A paratransgenic strategy to block transmission of Xylella fastidiosa from the glassy-winged sharpshooter Homalodisca vitripennis
Arthropod-borne diseases remain a leading cause of human morbidity and mortality and exact an enormous toll on global agriculture. The practice of insecticide-based control is fraught with issues of excessive cost, human and environmental toxicity, unwanted impact on beneficial insects and selection of resistant insects. Efforts to modulate insects to eliminate pathogen transmission have gained some traction and remain future options for disease control. Here, we report a paratransgenic strategy that targets transmission of Xylella fastidiosa, a leading bacterial pathogen of agriculture, by the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter (GWSS), Homalodisca vitripennis. Earlier, we identified Pantoea agglomerans, a bacterial symbiont of the GWSS as the paratransgenic control agent. We genetically engineered P. agglomerans to express two antimicrobial peptides (AMP)-melittin and scorpine-like molecule (SLM). Melittin and SLM were chosen as the effector molecules based on in vitro studies, which showed that both molecules have anti-Xylella activity at concentrations that did not kill P. agglomerans. Using these AMP-expressing strains of P. agglomerans, we demonstrated disruption of pathogen transmission from insects to grape plants below detectable levels. This is the first report of halting pathogen transmission from paratransgenically modified insects. It is also the first demonstration of paratransgenic control in an agriculturally important insect vector.