Johnathan Dalzell of Queen's University Belfast in the United Kingdom will improve food crop productivity particularly for small hold subsistence farmers by reducing the losses caused by pathogenic nematode worms, which are estimated to cost around $125 billion per year globally. These pathogenic worms absorb small proteins called neuropeptides from their external environment directly into their central nervous system, which can influence their movement and sensory behavior. They will exploit this process to destroy the worms. In Phase I, they identified two neuropeptide genes in the root knot nematode (RKN) Meloidogyne incognita, which is a serious pathogen of many crop types. They also exposed infectious stage nematodes to a selection of neuropeptides and found 11 that inhibited their movement towards plant roots, and 13 that protected a crop plant from infection. Finally, they established protocols to genetically modify crops to express and secrete the neuropeptides. In Phase II, they will develop knowledge and methods to produce transgenic plantain, which is a staple food crop of sub-Saharan Africa and a target of five major plant parasitic nematode species, to secrete multiple candidate neuropeptides, and test their resistance to infection.
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