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Collaborative Success Stories: A Way With Worms


University of Missouri scientists are helping shed light on how parasitic nematode worms attack plants.

Invisible to the naked eye, plant-parasitic nematodes are a serious threat to agriculture, causing billions in crop losses every year. However, the methods they use to infiltrate plant defenses are not well understood. An international team of scientists, including MU researcher Melissa Mitchum, set out to investigate.

The team found that the worms use a specialized hormone called cytokinin to help them feed. This is the first genetic evidence linking hormones to nematode infection. Cytokinin is part of a plant’s normal hormonal pathway, playing a part in growth and development. The nematodes synthesize their own form of cytokinin and secrete it into the plant, allowing them to actively control the plant’s production of ideal feeding sites for the pest.

The team’s findings, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could enable plant scientists to fight back. “Understanding how plant-parasitic nematodes modulate host plants to their own benefit is an essential first step in finding new technologies needed to develop crop plants with enhanced resistance to these devastating agricultural pests,” says Mitchum.

Dr. Melissa Mitchum is associate professor of plant sciences in MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and an investigator at Bond Life Sciences Center.

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Related Initiative(s):
Food for the Future