Plants use microbes to protect themselves from deadly roundworms

10 June 2020

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research have found that plants protect their roots from pathogens by recruiting microorganisms.

Published in Frontiers in Plant Science journal, the paper provides an example where plant roots use their exudates to alter the ageing process in the cuticle of roundworms, so that beneficial microorganisms (Pasteuria spores) can stick to the roundworm and help protect the plant. If the roundworm becomes encumbered with many spores, it stops them from migrating and invading the plant root.

It is estimated that $100 billion worth of crop is lost annually due to roundworms, and the hope is this discovery will be used to develop environmentally friendly ways of controlling parasitic roundworms and reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

All major staple crop plants are attacked by parasitic roundworms (including wheat, rice, maize and potato) and so are many horticultural crops (such as lettuce, cucumber and peppers).

Dr Keith Davies, applied nematologist and senior lecturer in the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “I have been working on developing alternatives to chemical pesticides for over twenty years and the development of new technologies opens all sorts of new opportunities.

“Plant-parasitic nematodes (roundworms) are particularly difficult to control because they are underground and hidden. This latest research is the first specific example that demonstrates a subtle way plants protect themselves through their ability to affect the ageing process of nematodes.

“I hope this research will lead to further work that will aid in the development of new, environmentally friendly ways of protecting crops. This will increase food security in India and beyond, which the ultimate goal of this research."

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