Plant Nematology at Leeds: Fundamental Research For New Defenses

As well as deploying the defenses developed over the past few years work continues in the lab to develop new strategies against plant parasitic nematodes to ensure long term solutions to the problems they pose to agriculture. We are using the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study how nematodes respond to defense chemicals naturally produced by plants when under attack. Combined with the genome sequence of Globodera pallida, which is currently under way, this work will be used to identify targets in plant parasitic nematodes that will increase the effectiveness of innate plant defenses.

The availability of the G. pallida genome sequence led to work to identify the effector proteins that root knot and cyst nematodes, like G. pallida, require to establish feeding structures in the root. These proteins will potentially become targets for new defense strategies. The G. pallida genome sequence is also being used to identify the components of the specialised feeding tube that cyst nematodes use to extract material from the plant cell it is feeding on and to define the types and sizes of proteins that the nematode can ingest.

Work in C. elegans is also aimed at furthering our understanding of how nematodes identify and move towards environmental signals. Using the G. pallida genome, the conservation of these mechanisms in plant parasitic nematodes will be investigated to guide development of novel repellent peptides.

The dynamic responses to multiple stresses, such as drought and nematode infection, that plants undergo is being investigated in tomato and rice to help predict the impact of changing climates and the best strategies for overcoming those stresses.