RNA interference (RNAi), which involves the delivery of small interfering RNA molecules (siRNA), has been used to validate target genes in plants, to understand and control cellular metabolic pathways, and as a green alternative for crop pest tolerance. Conventional siRNA delivery methods such as viruses and Agrobacterium-mediated delivery exhibit limitations in host plant species range and their use can result in uncontrolled DNA integration into the plant host genome. Here, we synthesize polyethyleneimine functionalized gold nanoclusters (PEI-AuNCs) to mediate siRNA delivery into intact plant cells and show these constructs enable efficient gene knockdown. We demonstrate that functionalized AuNCs protect siRNA from RNase degradation and are small enough (~2 nm) to bypass the plant cell wall which exhibits a size exclusion limit of 5-20 nm. These AuNCs in turn enable up to 76.5 +/- 5.9% GFP mRNA knockdown efficiency with no cellular toxicity. Our data suggest this simple and biocompatible platform for passive delivery of siRNA into intact plant cells could have broad applications in plant biotechnology.
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