Nat Protoc. 2020 Sep;15(9):3064-3087. doi: 10.1038/s41596-020-0370-0. Epub 2020 Aug 17.
Targeted downregulation of select endogenous plant genes is known to confer disease or pest resistance in crops and is routinely accomplished via transgenic modification of plants for constitutive gene silencing. An attractive alternative to the use of transgenics or pesticides in agriculture is the use of a ‘green’ alternative known as RNAi, which involves the delivery of siRNAs that downregulate endogenous genes to confer resistance. However, siRNA is a molecule that is highly susceptible to enzymatic degradation and is difficult to deliver across the lignin-rich and multi-layered plant cell wall that poses the dominant physical barrier to biomolecule delivery in plants. We have demonstrated that DNA nanostructures can be utilized as a cargo carrier for direct siRNA delivery and gene silencing in mature plants. The size, shape, compactness and stiffness of the DNA nanostructure affect both internalization into plant cells and subsequent gene silencing efficiency. Herein, we provide a detailed protocol that can be readily adopted with standard biology benchtop equipment to generate geometrically optimized DNA nanostructures for transgene-free and force-independent siRNA delivery and gene silencing in mature plants. We further discuss how such DNA nanostructures can be rationally designed to efficiently enter plant cells and deliver cargoes to mature plants, and provide guidance for DNA nanostructure characterization, storage and use. The protocol described herein can be completed in 4 d.