The genetic makeup of a plant-parasitic nematode worm is revealed online this week in Nature Biotechnology. It is the first genome of a multicellular animal known to be a plant parasite and offers an initial glimpse into animal life without sex―males of this species of root knot nematode make no genetic contribution to reproduction.
Parasitic roundworms cause global crop losses amounting to around ?100 ($157) billion annually and the chemicals used to control them are notoriously toxic to humans and the environment.
A consortium of 54 scientists from 27 laboratories in Europe and the USA has sequenced and analyzed the genome of the Southern root-knot nematode―a particularly destructive microscopic worm capable of infesting the roots of many important crops, including tomato, cotton and coffee.
The team relied substantially on knowledge of C. elegans―a distant non-parasitic relative studied intensively by developmental biologists?in discerning the unique aptitudes of the worm for hijacking plant roots for its own benefit. Genes known to be essential for survival of C. elegans and which are also found in the nematode may be excellent targets for more environment-friendly nematode control strategies.