Mentor: Peter DiGennaro
College of College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Research Interests: Medicine, Microbiology, Medical Entomology
Academic Awards: Clay Electric Scholarship 2016, Mulrennan Scholarship 2016, CALS Scholarship 2017, Florida Bright Futures Scholarship 2017
Organizations: Entomology Club, CALS Ambassadors, CALS Ambassadors
Volunteer: Reach Out Volunteers in Cambodia, Entomology Club Outreach Program
Hobbies and Interests: Hot yoga, going to the beach, fishing, traveling.
Molecular Interactions of Root Knot Nematodes and Host Plants
Plant parasitic nematodes are a group of molecular nematodes that cause the loss of billions of dollars in the crop industry all over the world. These parasitic microscopic nematodes are known to manipulate the tissue of the plant that becomes their host. By manipulating the plant tissue, nematodes can create convenient feeding sites for themselves. The effect on humans is immense as you can infer from the crop yield losses. In our research, we will specifically be focusing on root-knot nematodes. Understanding certain effectors and why they have certain consequences will help us to come to a conclusion of data. The effectors that we are going to focus on are in an apoplastic location. Root-knot nematode eggs are laid in soil surrounding the current nematode infected plant. The nematode enters the plant through the root tip and then travels throughout the vasculature of the host plant. The root-knot nematode then creates something called a giant cell which is created from vascular parenchyma cells. This is done by the second stage larvae nematode. After successful completion of the giant cell, it becomes the feeding site for the parasitic nematode. Through karyokinesis, the giant cell gradually becomes larger which eventually forms the knot formations on the host plant’s roots. The question of how these root-knot nematodes can form these feeding sites within the host plant arises. One hypothesis is that plant peptide hormone mimics secreted from the root-knot nematodes is the path of manipulation of the plant biology by the nematode. The specific plant peptide hormone that was found to regulate the growth of roots in vascular plants is the c-terminally encoded peptide. The c-terminally encoded peptide has been found in the genes of root knot nematodes specifically. It is currently unknown if this c-terminally encoded peptide from root knot nematode genes is the molecular connection between the host plant and the manipulation of the plant biology. The success of the process of the nematodes is truly amazing but the basis as to why it happens on a molecular level is largely unknown. While there are many hypotheses, there is no solid data published to answer the question that many people are wanting to know the answer to. The goal of this project is to produce that solid data. Through extensive experimentation using legumes and root knot nematodes, the answer may find its way into our hands. By observing the life cycles of these specific nematodes and finding out when they secrete certain peptides (during the four larval stages, feeding initiation, hatching of eggs, etc.) and why they are secreting these peptides at these certain times I believe that we can find the answer to our general question.