The full weight of a consortium of world-leading scientists including those who helped decode the entire human genome is being thrown at a parasitic worm less than 1mm long.
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, Scotlands 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 were 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 ro
|Contact: Jo Kelly|
University of Leeds