Plant-parasitic nematodes cause diseases of nearly all crop plants of economic importance with estimated losses of several billion ECU/year. In Europe both root knot and cyst nematodes of the genera Meloidogyne, Globodera, and Heterodera are regarded as serious pests and important limiting factors in e.g. potato, rapeseed and sugar beet cultivation. Only a small number of resistant crop varieties have been obtained through breeding programs so far. These resistances are often based on single resistance genes and can break down after several generations. The most commonly used practices to keep nematode infections at an acceptable level are crop rotation schemes and chemical control through soil sterilisation and nematicides. Especially in areas with intensive agriculture, the use of these very often extremely toxic agrochemicals has reached unacceptably high levels resulting in national and EC guidelines aimed at the drastic reduction of these chemicals within the next decade. In this context the development of alternative methods to combat nematodes are urgently needed. At the start of this project plant-nematode research had been a minor area of research in each EC country in comparison to other fields in phytopathology. Consequently, national feedback and exchange of scientific information among different institutes within a member state was limited.
Most of the participating groups have joined a new RTD project within the Framework IV Biotechnology Programme (ARENA) which started in October 1996 and which will allow them to continue their work towards understanding plant-nematode interactions on a molecular level and develop novel strategies for the engineering of nematode resistance in crop plants. A second RTD proposal (FAIR-1714) covering the development of a particular strategy towards nematode resistance in sugar beet was submitted by some of the participants to the EC-FAIR programme and has been supported.
During the period over which this concerted action ran (November 1992 to October 1996) it sponsored collaborations, exchange visits-and scientific meetings of 16 leading European groups working on plant-parasitic nematodes. The program helped these groups to broaden their research areas and accelerate their scientific progress by establishing strong alliances, transferring technical know-how and making special expensive equipment available to other participants. The EC program coincided in time with the advent of molecular biology to the field of plant nematology and had a significant impact in promoting this development in Europe.
The major scientific highlights emerging as a direct consequence of this EC Concerted Action are
- the development of Arabidopsis as a new model system to understand plant-nematode interactions on molecular level
- the generation and screening of a promoter tagging library which provided the basis for the isolation of plant promoters and genes with putative pathogenesis-related functions
- the cloning of the first nematode resistance gene, the Hsl gene form Beta procumbens.
Another interesting research area, which has progressed significantly during this period, concerns the identification of monoclonal antibodies binding to various molecular components of the nematode and their application in a plantibody approach to resistance.
During the funding period a total of 15 joint publications were submitted by the participants to reputed academic journals. At the end of the project all participants contributed to a book reviewing the field of molecular plant nematology and emphasizing the scientific achievements of the groups participating in this Concerted Action Program (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997). The promoter tagging library generated during the program has been made available to the scientific community for general use via the Arabidopsis seed stock center in Nottingham.
Funding SchemeCON - Coordination of research actions
AL1 St Albans
AL5 2JQ Harpenden, Herts
DD2 5DA Dundee
LS2 9JT Leeds
LE1 7RH Leicester