University of Missouri scientists discover specialized hormone that feeds plant-parasitic nematodes

MU professor Melissa Mitchum found genetic evidence that is the link to how nematodes attack soybean crops.
MU professor Melissa Mitchum found genetic evidence that is the link to how nematodes attack soybean crops.
Plant scientists at the University of Missouri and the University of Bonn in Germany have proved that plant-parasitic nematodes use a specialized hormone to feed from plants.

“Cell cycle regulation is a key aspect of plant development and one of the first events altered during the formation of the feeding sites nematodes use to acquire nutrients from host plants,” Melissa Goellner Mitchum, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and an associate professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at Missouri, said. “These discoveries led scientists to suspect that cytokinin, a hormone that promotes cell division in plants, might play a key role in feeding site formation for nematode parasites.”

Carola De La Torre helped Mitchum work on the research in which the goal was to determine if nematode infection alters the cytokinin signaling pathways plants use to regulate growth and development. The pair also wanted to explore how the process is changed by infection.

“As part of our research, we examined the activation of different components of the cytokinin pathway in response to nematode infection,” De La Torre said. “Also, we evaluated numerous plants that lacked the presence of these components and found that most of these plants were less susceptible to nematode infection. These results suggested to us that these little worms are not only utilizing parts of a plant hormonal pathway that is important for plant growth and development, but they also are doing it in a way that allows them to cause disease.”

The study recently was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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University of Missouri - Columbia

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