Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) is a rapid reverse genetics tool that has been developed in a wide variety of plant species for assessing gene functions. However, while VIGS has been utilized successfully in the diploid model leguminous species Medicago truncatula (Gaertn.) (barrel medic), such a platform has yet to be established in forage legume crop species. Therefore, we evaluated the effectiveness of this method in forage legumes using a previously developed PEBV (pea early browning virus) system whereby a fragment of the pea (Pisum sativum L.) PHYTOENE DESATURASE (PDS) gene was transferred into a range of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.), and fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) cultivars using leaf infiltration and apical meristem injection. Barrel medic was used as a positive control. Gene silencing was observed after 10–15 d through the presence of a leaf bleaching phenotype, and was confirmed using quantitative real-time RT-PCR. Silencing of PDS was achieved in a selection of cultivars in all species assessed, with the highest silencing efficiency apparent in fenugreek. The introduction of a highly homologous gene fragment from a heterologous plant species to target endogenous genes for transient VIGS-based silencing in a range of species of interest represents a potentially useful strategy for the rapid functional characterization of candidate genes in forages.
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