Targeting internal processes of plant-parasitic nematodes in the pursuit of novel agents for their control

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The success of plant-parasitic nematodes as competitors with humans for crops is evidenced by the parasites’ significant and continuous economic drain on global agriculture. Scientific efforts dedicated to the control of plant-parasitic nematodes employ strategies from the environmental to molecular levels. Understanding the interaction of the nematode with its environment, and the molecules involved, offers great promise for novel control agent development. Perhaps more significantly, such knowledge facilitates the generation of ever more detailed and sophisticated information on nematode biology and new molecular targets. Among the most economically important groups of plant-parasitic nematodes are those comprising the cyst-forming species and the root-knot nematodes. Presented here is a brief overview of research into the biology of these parasites relative to their life cycles. Recent advances in elucidating the molecular biology and biochemistry of nematode-plant interactions during the internal parasitic stages of the life cycle have been driven by advances in genomics and transcriptomics. The remarkable discoveries regarding parasitism, and the application of genetic resources in these findings, provide a template for advanced investigation of external, survival stages biology. While survival biology research lags somewhat behind that of parasitism with regard to the molecular genetics of signalling and response, its extensive catalogue promises explosive rates of discovery as progress in genomics and transcriptomics allows a molecular genetic examination of embryogenesis, dormancy and hatching. Our group is interested in behaviour, development and hatching of cyst and root-knot nematodes, and the effects of the environment on the mechanisms of these activities. Phytochemical and temperature effects are discussed, and evidence is presented that the cyst may provide useful molecules for exploring nematode physiology.


International Journal of Fundamental and Applied Nematological Research



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  • Simplified life cycle of cyst and root-knot nematodes. The cycle is depicted as comprising four stages; parasitism and survival stages connected by two transitional stages. Internal-parasitism: Infective juveniles initiate parasitism through issuance of a variety of effector molecules that help to establish a feeding site, protect the parasite from plant defences, and support growth and development leading to mature adults and into Transition 1. During Transition 1, mature cyst-forming females expand through the root surface as distended saccate forms (eventual cyst) containing the majority of eggs, and with a gelatinous matrix containing a minority portion of the eggs. Mature root-knot females, which become encased within visible galls, also deposit their eggs in a gelatinous matrix. Mature males leave the root. External-survival: External events include maintenance of the protective gelatinous matrix, continuation of embryogenesis that began internally, mating and fertilisation, development to the J1 stage, a single moult to J2, and hatching of the infective J2. If environmental conditions are not suitable, un-hatched J2 may enter a quiescent or diapause state of developmental arrest until conditions improve. In this case, the external survival stage can be considerably extended in real time, but developmental time is suspended. When hatching occurs, it initiates Transition 2. The infective J2 seeks a host, penetrates the root, and initiates parasitism. Survival is dependent upon a successful Transition 2.

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  • Images of Heterodera glycines and Meloidogyne incognita females on roots of soybean (Glycine max) and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), respectively. A: The head of a H. glycines female (fm) is embedded within the G. max root with the distended saccate portion of the female (sf) containing prominently exposed eggs. The posterior of the female exudes a gelatinous matrix (gm) in which eggs can collect. The majority of eggs remain within the sf. Cuticular tanning of the sf results in the protective cyst. In this image, mechanical disturbance in preparing the specimen caused extrusion of eggs, some of which are seen leaving the matrix; B: The M. incognita female (fm) resides within a protective root gall on A. esculentus, with the posterior gelatinous matrix exposed (eggs are not clearly visible in this image). Images from USDA Nematology Laboratory collection (A) and courtesy of Dr L.K. Carta, USDA Nematology Laboratory (B).

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  • Distribution of peer-reviewed research articles between host plant or plant-parasitic nematode as the main focus. Articles were selected from Nematological Abstracts searches using CAB Direct and criteria as described in Material and methods. Data were further sorted between cyst and root-knot nematodes, and expressed as total articles over 10 years. The nematode category is also sorted between biology and detection (see Materials and methods for details).

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  • Protease activities and protease inhibition in preparations from Heterodera glycines cysts and Panagrellus redivivus. Data are expressed as mean protease activity detected in 3-9 independent reactions. Means were compared with Student’s t-test and those followed by different letters are significantly different (P<0.05). Abbreviations: Pre, P. redivivus extract; HglCC, H. glycines cyst contents; N, native extract or contents; H, heated extract or contents.

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