Public Domain Research

A Story from the Land

Innovation, Technologies and the Public Domain

The challenge of controlling pests and diseases in agriculture has long been a critical, time sensitive undertaking of trial and error, failure, and success. It has been over half a century since the term “Integrated Pest Management” or “IPM” was first introduced as a more benign and sustainable way to go about protecting our food supply. Instead of eliminating all bugs, the learning curve that taught us to allow beneficial insects and microbes to help defend our crops continues to yield new insights and tools. Today many producers are utilizing biological predators and other organisms to populate their fields and colonize their root systems or animal guts. New research and technology that allows researchers to identify naturally occurring beneficial nematodes or fungi and place them in suspension or rear them for eggs and spore release are part of the exciting new arsenal of tools in the producer “toolbox.”

Underlying these IPM management interventions is the research that discovered the pathways and complex mechanisms by which insects and pathogens weaken plants or enable plant health productivity. Cyst nematodes, a group of pathogens responsible for lost yields in sugar beets, soybeans, and other crops, feed from one location inside the plant root, where each nematode develops a parasitic relationship in the host plant. What had not been known is how this nematode is able to infect root plant cells and orchestrate massive plant gene expression changes. However, recent research led by Iowa State University scientists has revealed an important mechanism by which parasitic cyst nematodes reprogram cells in a host plant to enable their parasitism.

Dr. Thomas Baum explains, “The nematode injects a mixture of proteins into plant cells. We discovered that one of these nematode proteins alters the conformation of the host plant’s genetic material, redirecting the plant’s gene expression machinery to enable parasitism.”

“We still have a lot to learn,” says lead scientist Dr. Paramasivan Vijayapalani, “Other effector proteins are likely to be involved. Even so, knowing more about how cyst nematodes redirect their hosts’ molecular mechanisms to survive is important to be able to devise effective control strategies, such as engineering resistant crops.”

This collaborative research was made possible by USDA Hatch Act and State of Iowa funds, USDA NIFA-AFRI (Grant 2015- 67013-23511), the Iowa Soybean Association, the North Central Soybean Research Project, and the French Laboratory of Excellence project TULIP (ANR-10-LABX-41 and ANR-11-IDEX-0002-02).


Read the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture press release on “Iowa State Scientists Lead Discovery of a Mechanism Cyst Nematodes Use to Reprogram Plant Host Cells”

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