India and Australia join forces to tackle plant pests

April 8, 2015

Mike Jones webThe WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) at Murdoch University and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Dehli have each received $200,000 from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund to fight one of the most destructive groups of plant pests in the world.

The funding will help researchers to develop plants that are resistant to plant-parasitic nematodes (PPNs). PPNs are microscopic worms which attack plant roots and cause annual global losses of crop production of about $120 billion.

Murdoch University researchers, under the leadership of Professor Mike Jones, will study ways to develop host plant resistance to root lesion nematodes and the Indian Institute, under the leadership of Dr Uma Rao, will work on cereal cyst nematodes.

Professor Jones said that the study of plant parasitic nematodes has been neglected in the past because as soil-borne pests, they are difficult to study.

“However, new technologies are enabling rapid advances to be made in unraveling interactions between PPNs and their host plants,” Professor Jones said.

“These now provide new opportunities to move from classical studies to focused solution-orientated research on specific plant nematodes.

“Significantly, generating and leveraging new fundamental knowledge on nematode-plant interactions brings with it the very real potential to reduce the economic losses they cause, by translating this knowledge into new methods for their control.”

As well as the economic benefits that will arise from the research there are also environmental and social benefits.

“Genetic resistance to nematodes will reduce the need to use chemicals to control plant nematodes which in turn benefits farm workers and the environment,” Professor Jones said.

“Crops with healthy roots require less water and nutrient inputs, and tolerate environmental stress better.

“Improved sustainability of crop production combined with reduced costs of inputs will have a positive social impact, providing sustainable food supplies to consumers at affordable prices.”

At the conclusion of the project researchers hope to have developed patents to protect specific sequences developed in the project which will switch off essential nematode genes and give plants resistance to PPNs.

“Having modeled the value of nematode-resistant traits if deployed in different crop plants, we note that the intellectual property generated in this project could bring substantial royalties to both Australian and Indian partners in this project,” Professor Jones said.

Root lesion and cyst nematodes are both of significant economic importance in temperate and tropical regions worldwide.

Professor Jones said this research would build on previous research also funded by the Australia-India Strategic Research fund.

“In our previous research we identified factors that enable these nematodes to be such successful plant pests and we also discovered genes which are vital to growth and reproduction of nematodes,” Professor Jones said.

“We will use this knowledge to provide new avenues for nematode control.”

The project is jointly funded by the Australian and Indian governments. The funding was one of only three awards from the Biotechnology section of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund this round.

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