The potato cyst nematode (PCN), Globodera pallida, attacks potato crops all over the world and is particularly devastating in developing countries where the potato is a subsistence crop. A £1.7 million project led by the University of Leeds to fully sequence its DNA, hopes to shed light on the mechanisms that make the tiny worm such a successful parasite - and lead to methods to sustainably manage this pest.
The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), draws together experts from the University of Leeds, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Rothamsted Research and SCRI, Scotland's leading centre for crop research.
"Although there is partial resistance in some potato varieties, it is very difficult to breed this resistance into commercial ones - so we're tackling the problem from a different perspective," says Dr Peter Urwin from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences. "If we can find out exactly how this worm works so efficiently, it should lead to measures that will help the potato plant to withstand attack."
The worm invades the roots of the potato plant and injects a substance causing the plant to create a unique cell from which it feeds via a specialised tube. By doing this, the nematode stunts root growth and deprives the potato plant of essential nutrients, which leads to lower quality, smaller crops.
Says Dr Urwin: "This tiny parasite has evolved many clever mechanisms that we hope to be able to understand more fully through this research. We have no idea what this injected substance is or how it manages to persuade the plant to create the feeding cell. In addition, its eggs can remain viable in the soil for up to twenty years, with hatching triggered by sensing chemicals released by potato roots nearby. Because of this, once a field is infected, it's almost impossible to get rid of them."
G. pallida is an international problem, affecting the world's two major potato growing regions - the Ukraine and Idaho, USA - as well as 18 countries in the EU and 55 countries world wide. The widespread cultivation of potato varieties such as Maris Piper, which whilst naturally resistant to other PCNs, are not resistant to G. pallida, suggests that the significance of the worm is likely to increase.
UK farmers spend in excess of £50 million a year in efforts to manage the pest. Infestations are currently treated with toxic chemicals, which do not enter the food chain, but are expensive to apply and can make soil sterile, killing other living organisms within it.
Dr Urwin says that controlling G. pallida is essential to maintain the competitiveness of UK potato industry, which together with processing and retail markets is worth some £3 billion per year. "We think that consumers are more likely to support UK production that avoids pesticide residues and environmental harm and that is soundly based on a sustainable approach," he says.
The team hope to complete the sequencing by 2012.
Photo shows female G. pallida feeding on the roots of a potato plant
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878