And you ought to be interested in the exciting research that Shahid Masood Siddique, a new member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, is doing.
Plant-parasitic nematodes are microscopic worms that extract water and nutrients from such host plants as wheat, soybeans, sugar beets, citrus, coconut, corn, peanuts, potato, rice, cotton and bananas. (See more from a list compiled by the Agricultural Research Services of the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture or USDA-ARS.)
“They're one of the most destructive agricultural pests,” says Siddique, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology last March. “The agricultural losses due to plant-parasitic nematodes reach an estimated $80 billion. The high impact of plant parasitic nematodes in economically important crops is not only due to the direct damage but also because of the role of some species as virus vectors.”
“In fact, a recent expert-based assessment of crop health lists nematodes among the most damaging pests and pathogens in different crops. In particular for soybeans, nematodes are the most damaging pests in the United States and around the world.”
Siddique, who served as a research group leader for several years at the University of Bonn, Germany, before joining the UC Davis faculty, says nematodes are troubling in other ways as well. “Although nematode-resistance varieties are available for various crops, there is an emergence of resistant-breaking population throughout the world. An example is the recent arrival of peach root-knot nematode in California, which has the potential to seriously harm many of region's important crops including almonds, peaches, eggplants, sugar beets and cucumber.”
Siddique was among a team of scientists from Bonn University and University of Missouri, who demonstrated the ability of parasitic nematodes to synthesize and secrete a functional plant hormone to manipulate the host system and establish a long-term parasitic interaction. PNAS published the research in August 2015. In a subsequent article headlined “Researchers Discover Key Link in Understanding Billion-Dollar Pests in Agriculture,” Science Daily called nematodes “a huge threat to agriculture, causing billions in crop losses every year …The discovery will help to develop crop plants that feature enhanced protection against this type of parasites.”
Born and reared in Multan, Pakistan, Siddique received two degrees in Multan: his bachelor of science degree from the Government College Bosan Road in 2001 and his master's degree in botany from the Bahauddin Zakariya University in 2004. Then it was off to Vienna, Austria to receive his doctorate in 2009 in agriculture and biotechnology from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences.
“His group was working on understanding the molecular aspects of plant-nematode interaction,” Siddique recalled. “In particular, they were using microarrays to study the changes in gene expression in plants upon nematode infection. I found the work very interesting and joined his lab.”
Nematodes did not immediately trigger his interest. “They have a complicated life cycle and infection pattern,” he points out. “Also, it is not yet possible to genetically transform plant-parasitic nematodes. So, I was mostly focusing on plants, which are more amenable to genetic manipulations. Then I gradually started to realize that how fascinating it is to work with nematodes, how they have mastered the ability to manipulate the defense and developmental pathways of their host.”
By the time he completed his doctorate, “I was completely infected by nematodes.” He still is.
What drew him to UC Davis? “High academic reputation in field of agriculture was the main factor that drew me to UC Davis,” Siddique says. “Ethnic diversity and liberal culture of golden state are some of the other factors that contributed to my decision to move to UC Davis.”
“For the next six months, I will be focusing on establishing a state-of-the art nematology lab here at UC Davis. This includes buying equipment, hiring the staff, establishing the protocol, and multiplying the nematode culture. In terms of research, my mid-term goal is understanding the plant immune responses to nematode infections. In long-term, I would like to use this knowledge to produce durable and broad-spectrum resistance in crops.”
“Another area where I will be focusing is development of molecular diagnostic tools for plant-parasitic nematodes from soil,” Siddique says. “I will be particularly focusing on nematodes that are relevant to California agriculture. Lastly, I am highly interested in understanding the mechanism of biocontrol of plant-parasitic nematodes. I expect that this will help in understanding why application of microbial biocontrol is so inconsistent.”
Siddique describes himself as “a result-oriented person and I am comfortable leading a large research team. At the same time, I like to delegate the responsibilities. My working style is collaborative and I believe on open and frank communication.”
In his leisure time, he enjoys cooking, outdoor adventures and watching documentaries. What would people be surprised to know about him? “I am an introvert,” he says. “A couple of other things: I like super spicy food and my favorite game is cricket. And oh, yes, I don't like ice-cold water.”
Siddique is currently seeking “undergraduate and graduate students to work on a number of exciting projects.”
“California is a beautiful place to live,” Siddique says, “and Davis is a perfect place to work on nematodes. So, for those interested in working with nematodes, drop me an email at email@example.com.”
- “Worm Subverts Plant Attack,” The Scientist, April 3, 2014
- “Researchers Discover Key Link in Understanding Billion-Dollar Pests in Agriculture,” Science Daily, Sept. 29, 2015
- “Arabidopsis Leucine-Rich Repeat Receptor–Like Kinase NILR1 Is Required for Induction of Innate Immunity to Parasitic Nematodes,” PLOS Pathogens, April 13, 2017
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Pheronym, a company in Alachua, Fla., that develops and produces nematode pheromones, have announced plans to send nematodes (small round worms) to the International Space Station as early as this year.
The news, announced Feb. 20 on the ARS website, may have been overlooked by many ("What's a nematode?") but not by nematologists and other scientists.
The headline: "Starship Nematode."
"The mission represents a look into the future where food crops will be grown in space," according to writer Sharon Dunham. "The goal is to develop environmentally friendly methods for space travel that are not harmful to humans," she wrote. "This will be the first biological control experiment in space."
She went on to relate that experiment will "test the movement and infection behavior of beneficial nematodes (also called entomopathogenic nematodes or EPNs) that control a wide array of insect pests in agriculture." ARS research entomologist, David Shapiro-Ilan at the Fruit and Tree Nut Research Station in Byron, Ga., is co-project director of the experiment.
Nematodes, Dunham said, are "environmentally friendly alternatives to broad spectrum chemical insecticides and are also safe to humans and other nontarget organisms. One fascinating aspect of the EPN biology is that the nematodes kill their insect pest hosts with the aid of symbiotic bacteria that are carried in the nematode gut."
Nathan Augustus Cobb (1859-1932), the "father of nematology in the United States," had this to say about a world without nematodes.
"In short, if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings, there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites."
In fact, nematodes seem totally destructible.
The event, free, family friendly and educational, is always held on Presidents' Day weekend. It's billed as a time "to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists from undergraduate students to staff to emeritus professors and see amazing objects and organisms from the world around us."
The times will be staggered. Some collections will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and others, from noon to 4 p.m. Here's a list of what you can see, with links to their websites:
Room 1124 and hallway of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
Greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
340 Equine Lane, off Old Davis Road
Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (Noon to 4 p.m.)
Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road (take West Hutchison Drive to Hopkins (take West Hutchison Drive to Hopkins)
Marine Invertebrate Collection (not linked) (Noon to 4 p.m.)
Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Room 1394, Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lame
Nematode Collection (Noon to 4 p.m.)
Paleontology Collection (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Earth and Physical Sciences Building, 434 LaRue Road
Phaff Yeast Culture Collection (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
Viticulture Enology Culture Collection (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
Want a peek at what happened last year? See the YouTube video, the work of UC Davis student Alexander Fisher-Wagner.
There will be plenty of attractions for youngsters, including the insect petting zoo at the Bohart Museum; dinosaur bones at the Paleontology Collection; carnivorous plants at the Conservatory; Vegemite and Kombucha (to eat!) at the Yeast Collection; demonstrations of eagles and hawks and other birds at the Raptor Center; prehistoric tool demonstrations (flint knapping, atlatl throwing) at tje Anthropology Collection; leaf rubbing and olive wreath crown making at the Arboretum; insect vacuum for observation at the Bee Haven, and pine cone petting zoo at the Herbarium.
Yes, you can pet stick insects at the Bohart Museum and pet pine cones at the Herbarium.
Meanwhile, you can find more information on the Biodiversity Museum Day website. (More information is pending)/span>
What was diagnostic parasitologist Lauren Camp of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital wearing on her head as she talked about the nematode collection last Saturday at the seventh annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day?
“The hookworm in that image is a parasite of dogs,” explained Camp, who received her doctorate in entomology in 2016 from UC Davis, studying with major professor Steve Nadler, chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. “This nematode lives in the small intestine of dogs, and is pretty small, at around 14-16 mm. Dogs can have no symptoms from this parasite, but the parasite can be fatal in some cases. Some of the hookworm samples I showed on Saturday were red because hookworms eat blood from their hosts in addition to eating the intestinal lining. Importantly, Ivana Li made the hat for me using papier mache!”
That would be entomologist Ivana Li, a UC Davis biology lab manager who received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis in 2013.
Among nematologists staffing the collection, displayed from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Sciences Laboratory Building, were graduate students Corwin Parker and Chris Pagan, who study with major professor Steve Nadler.
Camp, who hails from rural northern Indiana, first became interested in parasites as an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago, where she received her bachelor's degree in biology in 2005. She went on to earn her master's degree in biology from Wake Forest University in 2007 and her doctorate from UC Davis in December 2017. Her doctoral research focused on the genetic characterization of raccoon roundworm, a zoonotic nematode, in North America.
Camp joined the Clinical Diagnostic Laboratories Parasitology Lab in August 2017. Her responsibilities include looking through feces to find and identify parasites. “Many of these parasites are nematodes,” she points out.
"My specific interest in nematode parasites developed when I read some of Dr. Nadler's work on the evolutionary relationships of nematodes for an invertebrate biology class," she related.
Nematologists are accustomed to answering "What's a nematode?"
In one word, "worms."
“Nematodes are an amazing phylum of organisms--they exist in almost every known environment on the planet, and different species eat everything from bacteria and fungi to plant and animal tissue," Camp told us back in 2017, prior to setting up a display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Parasite Palooza. "I find parasites particularly fascinating, because they are dependent on another organism (or organisms) for part or all of their life cycle."
Camp appeared Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017 on Good Day Sacramento's "Parasite Palooza" show with entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the moth and butterfly specimens at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. They shared and showed specimens and live insects. Camp mentioned a 30-foot-long whale nematode. (See http://gooddaysacramento.cbslocal.com/video/category/spoken-word-good-day/3610653-parasite-palooza/). Her public service activities also include speaking to Capital Public Radio. (See http://www.capradio.org/88726.)
Do you know where your nematodes are? If you're a grower, you should.
"To make informed management decisions and ensure that environmentally damaging soil fumigants are applied only when and where needed, growers need to know precisely the density and distribution of pest nematodes," says nematologist Amanda Hodson, a professional researcher in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology who will present a departmental seminar at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31 in 122 Briggs Hall.
Hodson, who will deliver the hourlong seminar on "Molecular Detection and Integrated Management of Plant Parasitic Nematodes," studies the interrelationships between nematode pests, ecosystem functioning and management decisions.
"Molecular methods overcome some of the drawbacks of the labor and time intensive process of nematode detection," she says. "Our analysis has established the accuracy of real time PCR (qPCR) primers which accurately differentiate and quantify several pest nematodes from other nematodes in the soil including lesion nematode (Pratylenchus vulnus), ring nematode (Mesocriconema xenoplax) and two separate groups of root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.). Integrated management of these soil pests requires better understanding of the interactions between nematode pest suppression, soil food webs, management tactics, crop productivity, and soil health. Our experiments link managing for nematode pest suppression with other desired ecological outcomes such as increased soil organic matter and nutrient cycling in cropping systems such as almonds, tomatoes and carrots."
Hodson's research integrates plant and root biology with the fields of entomology, nematology, acarology and biogeochemistry. She completed her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in 2010 on the ecological effects of a biological control agent in pistachio orchards, finding that the entomopathogenic nematode, Steinernema carpocapsae, caused temporary changes in native soil food webs. Following up on these results in the laboratory, she found that the European earwig (Forficula auricularia) could serve as a novel host for the nematode. This susceptibility depended on host body size with significantly higher mortality rates seen in larger earwigs.
The departmental seminars (see schedule) are open to all interested persons. Seminar coordinators are assistant professor Rachel Vannette, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and doctoral student Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab.