Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Discover Key Link in Understanding Pests in Agriculture

October 14, 2015

Plant parasitic nematodes are a huge threat to agriculture, causing billions in crop losses every year. Scientists at the University of Missouri and the University of Bonn in Germany have found the first genetic evidence linking one method these animals use to attack plants. They proved that these tiny worms use the hormone cytokinin to help them feed from the plant.

The research team, led by MU Professor Melissa Mitchum, examined the activation of different components of the cytokinin pathway in response to nematode infection. They also evaluated plants that lacked the hormone and found that most of these plants were less susceptible to nematode infection, suggesting that the nematodes are not only using parts of the plant's hormonal pathway important for growth and development, but are also doing it in a way that allows them to cause disease.

Using advanced genetic tools, the team discovered that nematodes create their own form of plant cytokinin and that, by secreting the hormone into the plant, they actively control the cell cycle leading to the production of ideal feeding sites to support their development. These findings show how the nematodes synthesize and secrete a functional plant hormone to establish long-term parasitism.

For more details, read the news release at the University of Missouri News Bureau.