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Development of an RNA interference (RNAi) gene knockdown protocol in the anaerobic gut fungus Pecoramyces ruminantium strain C1A

Calkins, Shelby S.
Elledge, Nicole C.
Mueller, Katherine E.
Marek, Stephen M.
Couger, MB
Elshahed, Mostafa S.
Youssef, Noha H.
Members of the anaerobic gut fungi (AGF) reside in rumen, hindgut, and feces of ruminant and non-ruminant herbivorous mammals and reptilian herbivores. No protocols for gene insertion, deletion, silencing, or mutation are currently available for the AGF, rendering gene-targeted molecular biological manipulations unfeasible. Here, we developed and optimized an RNA interference (RNAi)-based protocol for targeted gene silencing in the anaerobic gut fungus Pecoramyces ruminantium strain C1A. Analysis of the C1A genome identified genes encoding enzymes required for RNA silencing in fungi (Dicer, Argonaute, Neurospora crassa QDE-3 homolog DNA helicase, Argonaute-interacting protein, and Neurospora crassa QIP homolog exonuclease); and the competency of C1A germinating spores for RNA uptake was confirmed using fluorescently labeled small interfering RNAs (siRNA). Addition of chemically- synthesized siRNAs targeting D-lactate dehydrogenase (ldhD) gene to C1A germinating spores resulted in marked target gene silencing; as evident by significantly lower ldhD transcriptional levels, a marked reduction in the D-LDH specific enzymatic activity in intracellular protein extracts, and a reduction in D-lactate levels accumulating in the culture supernatant. Comparative transcriptomic analysis of untreated versus siRNA- treated cultures identified a few off-target siRNA-mediated gene silencing effects. As well, significant differential up-regulation of the gene encoding NAD-dependent 2- hydroxyacid dehydrogenase (Pfam00389) in siRNA-treated C1A cultures was observed, which could possibly compensate for loss of D-LDH as an electron sink mechanism in C1A. The results demonstrate the feasibility of RNAi in anaerobic fungi, and opens the door for gene silencing-based studies in this fungal clade.