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SUMMARY

Recent discoveries regarding small RNAs and the mechanisms of gene silencing are providing new opportunities to explore fungal pathogen–host interactions and potential strategies for novel disease control. Plant pathogenic fungi are a constant and major threat to global food security; they represent the largest group of disease-causing agents on crop plants on the planet. An initial understanding of RNA silencing mechanisms and small RNAs was derived from model fungi. Now, new knowledge with practical implications for RNA silencing is beginning to emerge from the study of plant–fungus interactions. Recent studies have shown that the expression of silencing constructs in plants designed on fungal genes can specifically silence their targets in invading pathogenic fungi, such as Fusarium verticillioides, Blumeria graminis and Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici. Here, we highlight the important general aspects of RNA silencing mechanisms and emphasize recent findings from plant pathogenic fungi. Strategies to employ RNA silencing to investigate the basis of fungal pathogenesis are discussed. Finally, we address important aspects for the development of fungal-derived resistance through the expression of silencing constructs in host plants as a powerful strategy to control fungal disease.