Root-knot nematodes are the most economically important group of plant-parasitic nematodes worldwide, said Hussey, a distinguished research professor in plant pathology at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
They attack nearly every food and fiber crop grown, about 2,000 plant species in all.
The nematode invades plant roots, and by feeding on the roots' cells, they cause the roots to grow large galls, or knots, damaging the crop and reducing its yields.
Working with assistant research scientist Guozhong Huang and research technician Rex Allen, Hussey discovered how to make plants resistant to root-knot nematode infection.
Eric Davis at North Carolina State University and Thomas Baum at Iowa State University also collaborated on the research.
The discovery "has the potential to revolutionize root-knot resistance in all crops," Hussey said.
The most cost-effective and sustainable management tactic for preventing root-knot nematode damage and reducing growers' losses, he said, is to develop resistant plants that prevent the nematode from feeding on the roots. Because root-knot nematode resistance doesn't come naturally in most crops, Hussey's group bioengineered their own.
The results of the study were published Sept. 26 in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Four common root-knot nematode species account for 95 percent of all infestations in agricultural land. By discovering a root-knot nematode parasitism gene that's essential for the nematode to infect crops, the scientists have developed a resistance gene effective against all four species.'"/>