CORVALLIS, Ore. - They can be both a blessing and a curse, and have been around since the dawn of life. Thousands of species are found from mountain tops to smoking volcanic vents on the ocean floor. They play a key role in soil biology and help to support much of the plant and animal life on Earth.
But until now, no one knew when or where they came from. And to a large extent, no one cared. Such has been the fate of the hugely important but little appreciated animal known as the nematode, or roundworm.
That has changed with a new book from Oregon State University, "The Evolutionary History of Nematodes," that establishes for the first time the field of palaeonematology the study of the ancient history, origin and evolution of these tiny creatures from our distant past. More information on the book is available online at http://bit.ly/fimxff.
"A farmer usually just thinks about how to kill them, because some nematodes are parasites of crops," said George Poinar, author of the book and an OSU courtesy professor of zoology. "Geneticists have a little more respect, because one nematode, C. elegans, is very useful in modern genetic research. And helpful nematodes could become important in the future of organic and sustainable agriculture.
"About the only time most people care about nematodes is when they become infected with a species such as hookworms," Poinar said. "That's been going on a long time. The ancient Egyptians had treatments for worms, some of which were pretty horrible. One of them entailed eating goat feces."
At some universities, Poinar said, there are entire departments devoted to the study of nematodes again, mostly on how to kill them. But almost nothing until now had been done to learn about their origins, in part because the tiny, soft bodies of nematodes are rarely found in fossils. Their history was a mystery.
Poinar, however, is one of the world's lea
|Contact: George Poinar|
Oregon State University