Scabies is one of the most common and widespread parasitic skin infections globally, affecting a large range of mammals including humans, yet the molecular biology of Sarcoptes scabiei is astonishingly understudied. Research has been hampered primarily due to the difficulty of sampling or culturing these obligatory parasitic mites. A further and major impediment to identify and functionally analyse potential therapeutic targets from the recently emerging molecular databases is the lack of appropriate molecular tools.
We performed standard BLAST based searches of the existing S. scabiei genome databases using sequences of genes described to be involved in RNA interference in Drosophila and the mite model organism Tetranychus urticae. Experimenting with the S. scabiei mu-class glutathione S-transferase (SsGST-mu1) as a candidate gene we explored the feasibility of gene knockdown in S. scabiei by double-stranded RNA-interference (dsRNAi).
We provide here an analysis of the existing S. scabiei draft genomes, confirming the presence of a double stranded RNA (dsRNA) - mediated silencing machinery. We report for the first time experimental gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) in S. scabiei. Non-invasive immersion of S. scabiei in dsRNA encoding an S. scabiei glutathione S-transferase mu-class 1 enzyme (SsGST-mu1) resulted in a 35% reduction in the transcription of the target gene compared to controls.
A series of experiments identified the optimal conditions allowing systemic experimental RNAi without detrimental side effects on mite viability. This technique can now be used to address the key questions on the fundamental aspects of mite biology and pathogenesis, and to assess the potential therapeutic benefits of silencing S. scabiei target genes.