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Different pathogens release a diverse range of biomolecules during host colonization to support infection. Recently, we have identified small RNAs produced by the fungal plant pathogen Botrytis cinerea that enter the host cell during infection and suppress host plant immunity. Herein, Botrytis small RNAs mimic the plant microRNAs and hijack the host RNA interference (RNAi) pathway to silence host immunity genes. This discovery provided the first evidence of a fungal pathogen using mobile small RNAs to suppress host plants immunity as a virulence strategy that we name cross-kingdom RNAi. We are currently investigating how widespread small RNA-based virulence strategies and cross-kingdom RNAi are among different microbial pathogen-host systems. Moreover, we are trying to understand how small RNA molecules are transported from fungi into the host cell during the infection process. Our group employs a diverse set of genomics, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, molecular genetics, and biochemical approaches to gain fundamental knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of cross-kingdom RNAi. Understanding these molecular mechanisms and factors that determines cross-kingdom RNAi bears enormous potential in its application into RNA-based biotechnology.

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  1. A. Weiberg et al., Fungal small RNAs suppress plant immunity by hijacking host RNA interference   pathways. Science 342, 118-123 (2013).

  2. M. Knip, M. E. Constantin, H. Thordal-Christensen, Trans-kingdom cross-talk: small RNAs on the move. PLoS Genet 10, e1004602 (2014).

  3. A. Weiberg, M. Wang, M. Bellinger, H. Jin, Small RNAs: a new paradigm in plant-microbe interactions. Annu Rev Phytopathol 52, 495-516 (2014).

  4. A. Weiberg, H. Jin, Small RNAs-the secret agents in the plant-pathogen interactions. Curr Opin Plant Biol 26, 87-94 (2015).