Mechanisms, applications, and challenges of insect RNA interference

Kun Yan Zhu, Subba Reddy Palli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


The RNA interference (RNAi) triggered by short/small interfering RNA (siRNA) was discovered in nematodes and found to function in most living organisms. RNAi has been widely used as a research tool to study gene functions and has shown great potential for the development of novel pest management strategies. RNAi is highly efficient and systemic in coleopterans but highly variable or inefficient in many other insects. Differences in double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) degradation, cellular uptake, inter- and intracellular transports, processing of dsRNA to siRNA, and RNA-induced silencing complex formation influence RNAi efficiency. The basic dsRNA delivery methods include microinjection, feeding, and soaking. To improve dsRNA delivery, various new technologies, including cationic liposome-assisted, nanoparticle-enabled, symbiont-mediated, and plant-mediated deliveries, have been developed. Major challenges to widespread use of RNAi in insect pest management include variable RNAi efficiency among insects, lack of reliable dsRNA delivery methods, off-target and nontarget effects, and potential development of resistance in insect populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-311
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge that only a fraction of more than 3,000 papers published on RNAi in insects could be included in this review due to space restrictions.We particularly thank Zhitao Yu for help in organizing the references. Relevant research in the Zhu laboratory is supported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), including the Foundational Program (2014-67013-21714), Hatch (371324), and Hatch Multistate (372103) projects. Other support comes from a collaborative grant funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC31730074). Research in the Palli laboratory is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (GM070559-13 and 1R21AI131427-01), the National Science Foundation (Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers, the Center for Arthropod Management Technologies under grant IIP-1821936), and the USDA/NIFA (under Hatch Project 2351177000 and Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant 2019-67013-29351). This manuscript is contribution No. 19-208-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • RNAi efficiency
  • RNAi pathway
  • dsRNA delivery
  • pest management
  • systemic RNAi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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