NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Researchers in the UK led by the University of Leeds will use funding from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to sequence the genome of a tiny worm that damages potato crops, the university said today.
The groups will use £1.7 million ($3.5 million) to sequence the potato cyst nematode’s genome in order to gain knowledge of how the mysterious parasite, also called Globodera pallida, functions and how to prevent it from damaging crops.
Along with Leeds, researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Rothamstead Research, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute will contribute to the genomics project, which is expected to be completed in 2012.
G. pallida invades a potato plant’s root system and injects it with a substance that causes the plant to create a cell that serves as a sort of “feeding tube” that allows the worm to feed on the plant, the university said. This stunts the growth of the roots and reduces the yield and quality of potato crops.
“We have no idea what this injected substance is or how it manages to persuade the plant to create the feeding cell,” Peter Urwin, a member of Leeds’ bioscience faculty, said in a statement.
“Although there is partial resistance in some potato varieties, it is very difficult to breed this resistance into commercial ones -- so we’re tackling the problem from a different perspective,” Urwin added.
Another problem is that the worm can remain viable in soil for as long as twenty years and has a hatching process that is triggered by its sensing of nearby potato roots.
“Because of this, once a field is infected, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them,” Urwin continued.
Leeds said that G. pallida is found in 55 countries worldwide. Farmers in the UK spend as much as £50 million per year to combat the worm with chemicals that can cause sterility in the soil.