Nabbing Nematodes

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Science  02 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5582, pp. 739
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5582.739d

Most species of nematode worms are parasitic and can cause serious animal diseases in addition to acting as important crop pathogens. Nematophagous fungi catch their prey by producing elaborate structures to ensnare the worms. To avoid broadcasting potent nematicides into the environment, these fungi could be used as biological control agents, but their potential needs to be enhanced and for this to be possible the fungi need to be better characterized genetically.

Åhman et al. have been investigating the pathogenicity determinants of the fungus Arthrobotrys oligospora and have identified a specific extracellular serine protease as being key to nematode killing. This subtilisin-like enzyme is expressed at high levels in response to worm peptides in the environment. When additional copies of the protease gene were engineered into the fungus, worms were killed more effectively and more nematode trap structures were produced, partly because of the increased release of worm peptides. As well as improving the killing ability of the fungus, it may be possible to use the fungal gene to engineer nematode-killing properties directly into crop plants. — CA

Appl. Environ. Microbiol.68, 3408 (2002).

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