MISSOURI – A break through has been discovered in crop parasites that could change the way seeds are produced. Any change that can be implemented will be to create a pest resistant seed and subsequently a pest resistant plant. The pest in question is specifically nematode parasites, which infect the roots of soybean plants and the discovery break through is that these nematodes are the only animals that use the hormone cytokinin to cause disease in the very plant that produces the hormone.
Melissa Mitchum is an Associate Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri, as well as a resident faculty member at the Bond Life Sciences Center. In an interview with KMZU’s Ashley Johnson, she explains more about the parasite in question.
Cytokinin is a hormone that promotes cell division in plants. Cell division simply means growth of the plant; or the process of cellular mitosis. The fact that the nematode parasites use a plant’s own vital growth hormone to cause disease is spurring cytokinin research to avoid this problem. Plant scientists are currently looking at different components of cytokinin to determine their reaction to a nematode infection.
As of right now, Mitchum says the best method for farmers to handle nematode presence is to take soil samples from their fields and send them to the University of Missouri. MU will test the soil samples and determine the level of nematode population in the soil. This information can help farmers to make better management decisions to manage the nematode population.
If the population level is low, farmers can continue to plant their soybeans. If the level is moderate and farmers are seeing disease in their bean plants, they can choose to plant a strain of soybeans with a natural resistance to the nematode infection. If the levels are high and the soybeans no longer have a resistance to the nematodes, it is a good idea to plant something else that next year and test the soil again.
Corn for example can still have its roots affected with a nematode infection, but nematodes cannot complete their life cycle in the roots of corn. Therefore, the nematodes won’t come to maturity and therefore won’t be able to cause disease.