His seminar, titled "Gaps in Molecular Plant Nematology," is from 4:10 to 5 p.m. (Link to the form to join the Zoom meeting.)
"What has molecular plant nematology done for me?" asks DiGennaro, who will present a collection of short stories describing the need for, and benefits of, a symbiosis-centered approach in understanding plant-nematode interactions at the molecular level.
"Dr. DiGennaro does great work on plant-nematode interactions," said seminar host Shahid Siddique, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
DiGennaro, interested in the molecular basis of nematode parasitism in plants, primarily researches the root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp.); specifically, he is concerned with nematode-derived signaling molecules and subsequent host responses. His lab utilizes an array of genomic, genetic and biochemical tools to understand the fundamental mechanisms behind nematode host range, parasitism, and plant responses.
"The goal of our research is to develop novel avenues for safe and sustainable nematode control strategies," he says.
DiGennaro received his bachelor of science degree in biochemstry in 2007 from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and his doctorate in functional genomics, with a minor in plant pathology, from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2013. At NCSU, he studied the molecular basis for nematode parasitism in plants. He served as a postdoctoral researcher with the Plant Nematode Genomics Group at both NCSU and at UC Berkeley before joining the University of Florida, Gainsville, in July 2016.
Coordinating the seminars is Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For any technical issues, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Most current control methods rely on chemical nematicides, but their use is increasingly limited due to environmental concerns,” wrote Siddique and colleague Clarissa Hiltl of the University of Bonn, Germany, in a newly published News and Views column, “New Allies to Fight Worms,” in the scientific journal Nature Plants.
In commenting on Washington State University (WSU) research published in the same edition, they wrote that the proposed alternative pest management strategy--naturally occurring molecules or plant elicitor peptides (Peps)—shows promise: “Engineering a naturally occurring rhizobacterium to deliver Peps to the plant root system offers a new opportunity in integrated pest management.”
It's better to build up the host plant's immune system rather than directly target the pathogen with chemical nematicides which “are highly toxic and have negative effects on the ecosystem,” declared Siddique, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“Plant-parasitic nematodes are among the world's most destructive plant pathogens, causing estimated annual losses of $8 billion to U.S. growers and of nearly $78 billion worldwide,” he said.
The root-knot nematode Meloidogyne chitwoodi is a noted pest of potato production in the Pacific Northwest. Idaho leads the nation in commercial potato production, followed by Washington. Oregon ranks fourth. California, which ranks eighth, grows potatoes year around due to its unique geography and climate.
In their article, Siddique and Hiltl analyzed research published by WSU Department of Pathology scientists Lei Zhang and Cynthia Gleason who demonstrated the effective use of Peps to combat root-knot nematodes in potato (Solanum tuberosum). The WSU scientists engineered a bacteria, Bacillus subtillis, to secrete the plant-defense elicitor peptide StPep1. Pre-treatment of potato roots “substantially reduced root galling, indicating that a bacterial secretion of a plant elicitor is an effective strategy for plant protection,” the Zhang-Gleason team wrote. (See article.)
Earlier scientists discovered that Peps could effectively manage nematodes in soybeans. Unlike the seed-grown soybeans, however, potatoes grow from small cubes of potatoes known as seed potatoes.
“Besides chemical nematicides, methods of nematode management include the use of crop rotation, microbial biocontrol agents, cover crops, trap crops, soil solarization, fumigation and resistant plant varieties,” wrote Siddique and Hiltl. “However, several of these strategies are not effective or available for all crops. Nematicides are highly toxic, and their use is strictly limited due to environmental concerns. Resistant plants are often ineffective or unavailable. Microbial biocontrol agents have produced inconsistent results. In this context, the current work provides a new opportunity to manage plant-parasitic nematodes by combining two progressive strategies: the use of plant elicitors to enhance crop resistance to pathogens and the use of B. subtilis to deliver.”
It's somewhat like that when plant-parasitic nematodes (microscopic round worms) play “chemical hide and seek” with their plant host, says plant pathologist Shahid Masood Siddique, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“The success of plant-parasitic nematodes depends on their ability to locate a suitable host in the soil,” says Siddique, corresponding author of the newly published Spotlight article, “Chemical Hide and Seek: Nematode's Journey to Its Plant Host,” in the journal Molecular Plant.
Nematodes can be deadly to plants, not only because of the direct damage they cause (they extract water and nutrients from their hosts such as wheat, soybeans, sugar beets, citrus, coconut, corn, peanuts, potato, rice, cotton and bananas) but the role of some species as virus vectors.
“Plant-parasitic nematodes are among the most destructive agricultural pests, causing more than $100 billion in losses per year in the United States,” Siddique said, noting that nematodes are especially damaging to potato, soybean and wheat crops.
Although the success of nematodes depends on their ability to locate a suitable host in the soil, what attracts them to their host “has largely remained unknown,” wrote the four-member UC Davis team of Siddique, Natalie Hamada, Henok Zemene Yimer and Valerie Williams. “Recent studies have revealed that host-seeking by nematodes is a complex process that involves multiple stages in the interaction.”
“Most damage is caused by a small group of root-infecting sedentary endoparasitic nematodes including cyst nematodes and root-knot nematodes (RKNs),” the team of UC Davis researchers wrote in their abstract. “Second stage juveniles (J2s) of plant-parasitic nematodes hatch from eggs into the soil and localize to the roots of host plants. The success of these non-feeding J2s depends on their ability to locate and infect a suitable host.”
For eight decades, scientists have researched the attraction of plant-parasitic nematodes to the host root, ever since the pioneering Maurice Blood Linford (1901-1960) of the University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., observed in 1939 that the larvae of root-knot nematodes congregate in the cell elongation region behind the root cap.
“Both volatile and soluble components in the rhizosphere have been shown to influence nematode movement,” the UC Davis researchers wrote. “Methyl salicylate, a volatile chemical root signal, has been demonstrated to be a strong root attractant for RKN towards several Solanaceous plants (nightshade family). The non-volatile tomato root exudate quercetin was shown to elicit concentration dependent attraction or repulsion effect against Meloidogyne incognita to host root. Three recent studies have revealed that the recognition of and response to hosts by infective juveniles is a complex process that involves multiple stages in the interaction.”
Siddique focuses his research on basic as well as applied aspects of interaction between parasitic nematodes and their host plants. “The long-term object of our research is not only to enhance our understanding of molecular aspects of plant–nematode interaction but also to use this knowledge to provide new resources for reducing the impact of nematodes on crop plants in California.”
The nine-member research team, led by Frank Schroeder, a BTI professor and also a professor in Cornell University's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, detailed how plants speak “roundworm language” for self-defense. The work is published Jan. 10 in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers studied chemicals called ascarosides, which the worms produce and secrete to communicate with each other. Williamson helped analyze the data and helped make some key insights toward the paper's conclusions, the BTI scientists related.
The team found that plants “talk” to nematodes by metabolizing ascarosides and secreting the metabolites back into the soil.
“It's not only that the plant can ‘sense' or ‘smell' a nematode,” Schroeder said in a BTI news release. “It's that the plant learns a foreign language, and then broadcasts something in that language to spread propaganda that ‘this is a bad place.' Plants mess with nematodes' communications system to drive them away.”
The study built on the team's previous work showing that plants react to ascr#18 – the predominant ascaroside secreted by plant-infecting nematodes – by bolstering their own immune defenses, thereby protecting them against many types of pests and pathogens.
In those earlier studies, “We also saw that when ascr#18 was given to plants, the chemical disappears over time,” according to lead author Murli Manohar, a senior research associate at BTI.
That observation, along with published literature suggesting plants could modify pest metabolites, led the team to hypothesize that “plants and nematodes interact via small molecule signaling and alter one another's messages,” Schroeder said.
To probe that idea, the team treated three plant species – Arabidopsis, wheat and tomato – with ascr#18 and compared compounds found in treated and untreated plants. They identified three ascr#18 metabolites, the most abundant of which was ascr#9.
The researchers also found Arabidopsis and tomato roots secreted the three metabolites into the soil, and that a mixture of 90% ascr#9 and 10% ascr#18 added to the soil steered nematodes away from the plant's roots, thereby reducing infection.
The team hypothesized that nematodes in the soil perceive the mixture as a signal, sent by plants already infected with nematodes, to “go away” and prevent overpopulation of a single plant. Worms may have evolved to hijack plant metabolism to send this signal. Plants, in turn, may have evolved to tamper with the signal to appear as heavily infected as possible, thereby fooling would-be invaders.
“This is a dimension of their relationship that no one has seen before,” said Manohar. “And plants may have similar types of chemical communication with other pests.”
Although the mixture of ascr#9 and ascr#18 could serve as a crop protectant, Schroeder said there should be no detriment to using straight ascr#18 on crops, as described in the team's earlier research.
“Ascr#18 mainly primes the plant to respond more quickly and strongly to a pathogen, rather than fully inducing the defensive response itself,” he said. “So there should be no cost to the plant in terms of reduced growth, yield or other problems.”
The team also showed that plants metabolize ascr#18 via the peroxisomal β-oxidation pathway, a system conserved across many plant species.
“This paper uncovers an ancient interaction,” Schroeder said. “All nematodes make ascarosides, and plants have had millions of years to learn how to manipulate these molecules.”
He added: “Plants aren't passive green things. They are active participants in an interactive dialog with the surrounding environment, and we will continue to decipher this dialog.”
These discoveries are being commercialized by a BTI and Cornell University-based startup company, Ascribe Bioscience, as a family of crop protection products named PhytalixTM.
Scientists affiliated with four institutions--BTI, Cornell, UC Davis and the USDA's Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health--co-authored the paper. Grants from USDA and the National Institutes of Health funded the research.
An international team of 10 scientists, led by plant nematologist Shahid Siddique, a former research group leader at the University of Bonn, Germany, and now an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has discovered the role of a plant's endodermal barrier system in defending against plant-parasitic nematodes.
“We discovered that the integrity of the endodermis—a specialized cell layer that surrounds the vascular system and helps regulate the flow of water, ions and minerals--is important to restrict nematode infection,” said Siddique, who joined the UC Davis faculty in March after serving several years at the University of Bonn.
“We found that having defects in endodermis make it easier for parasites to reach the vascular cylinder and establish their feeding site. Although, this finding is a result of basic research, it opens new avenues to for breeding resistance against cyst nematodes in crops.”
The research, “Root Endodermal Barrier System Contributes to Defence against Plant‐Parasitic Cyst and Root‐Knot Nematodes,” is published in the July 19th edition of The Plant Journal.
Siddique collaborated with scientists from Germany, Switzerland and Poland: Julia Holbein, Rochus Franke, Lukas Schreiber and Florian M. W. Grundler of the University of Bonn; Peter Marhavy, Satosha Fujita, and Niko Geldner of the University of Lasuanne, Switzrland; and Miroslawa Górecka and Miroslaw Sobeczak of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Poland.
“Plant-parasitic nematodes are among the most destructive plant pathogens, causing agricultural losses amounting to $80 billion annually in the United States,” said Siddique. “They invade the roots of almond, tomato, beets, potato or soybeans and migrate through different tissues to reach the central part—the vascular cylinder--of the root where they induce permanent feeding sites.”
“These feeding sites are full of sugars and amino acids and provide the parasite all the nutrients they need,” Siddique explained. “A specialized cell layer called the endodermis surrounds the vascular system and helps regulates the flow of water, ions and minerals into and out of it. However, the role of endodermis in protecting the vascular system against invaders such as nematodes had remained unknown.”
In their abstract, the scientists noted that plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN) “cause tremendous yield losses worldwide in almost all economically important crops. The agriculturally most important PPNs belong to a small group of root‐infecting sedentary endoparasites that includes cyst and root‐knot nematodes. Both cyst and root‐knot nematodes induce specialized long‐term feeding structures in root vasculature from which they obtain their nutrients.”
“A specialized cell layer in roots called the endodermis, which has cell walls reinforced with suberin deposits and a lignin‐based Casparian strip (CS), protects the vascular cylinder against abiotic and biotic threats,” the researchers explained. “Until now, the role of the endodermis, and especially of suberin and the CS, during plant–nematode interactions was largely unknown.”
The team analyzed the role of suberin and CS during interaction between Arabidopsis plants and two sedentary root parasitic nematode species, the cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii and the root‐knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita. “We found that nematode infection damages endodermis leading to the activation of suberin biosynthesis genes at nematode infection sites.”
The research was funded by a grant from the German Research Foundation.