Here we report the genome sequence of the lesion nematode, Pratylenchus coffeae, a significant pest of banana and other staple crops in tropical and sub-tropical regions worldwide. Initial analysis of the 19.67 Mb genome reveals 6712 protein encoding genes, the smallest number found in a metazoan, although sufficient to make a nematode. Significantly, no developmental or physiological pathways are obviously missing when compared to the model free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which possesses approximately 21 000 genes. The highly streamlined P. coffeae genome may reveal a remarkable functional plasticity in nematode genomes and may also indicate evolutionary routes to increased specialisation in other nematode genera. In addition, the P. coffeae genome may begin to reveal the core set of genes necessary to make a multicellular animal. Nematodes exhibit striking diversity in the niches they occupy, and the sequence of P. coffeae is a tool to begin to unravel the mechanisms that enable the extraordinary success of this phylum as both free-living and parasitic forms. Unlike the sedentary endoparasitic root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.), P. coffeae is a root-lesion nematode that does not establish a feeding site within the root. Because the P. coffeae nematode genome encodes fewer than half the number of genes found in the genomes of root-knot nematodes, comparative analysis to determine genes P. coffeae does not carry may help to define development of more sophisticated forms of nematode-plant interactions. The P. coffeae genome sequence may help to define timelines related to evolution of parasitism amongst nematodes. The genome of P. coffeae is a significant new tool to understand not only nematode evolution but animal biology in general.