Biotech Updates

Scientists Discover How Nematodes Attack Plants

July 13, 2012

Controlling cyst nematode in soybean will save the U.S. soybean producers close to $1 billion annually. The nematode was previously found to feed on soybean cells by penetrating the roots and injecting cells with chemical signals that makes neighboring cells fuse to become the feeding site called syncytium. Once settled, the nematode lays eggs in a shell-like cyst structure.

Scientists Thomas Baum and Tarek Hewezi of Iowa State University studied how the nematode changes soybean gene activities to make the syncytium in the plant's root cells. They discovered that microRNA396 play an important role in this process. MicroRNAs are molecules that suppress the expression of target genes such that, at high concentration, the target genes or transcription factors are inactivated and vice versa.

The team found that plants with a low level of microRNA396, develop syncyctium easily during nematode penetration because the transcription factors which may be related to defense, are not activated. With this observation, microRNA396 can be used in developing novel control mechanisms against cyst nematodes.

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