Gene Scientists Lift Veil on Devastating Plant Parasite

An international team of 27 laboratories said this week they had laid bare the genetic code of a tiny parasite responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses each year. The worm, known as the root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita), infests plant roots leaving them gnarled. More than 3,000 crop types are affected, especially coffee, cotton, tomatoes, melons and cucumbers. Sequencing the worm’s genome could open the way to smarter, less toxic pesticides and other greener methods to curb the little menace, the researchers. The analysis, led by Pierre Abad of the France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), appears in the specialist journal Nature Biotechnology. The work is based largely on the sequencing of Caenorhabditis elegans, a non-parasite relative, that is a lab favourite for gene scientists. Parasite roundworms, which include M. incognita, cost farmers around 100 billion euros (US$157 billion) annually, and the chemicals used to control are blamed for increasing environmental damage.

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