Project: Characterization and steering of a highly desirable though sporadic phenomenon in soils: the biological suppression of plant-parasitic nematodes with quarantine status

Disease suppressiveness is a phenomenon by which soil micro-organisms suppresses the multiplication and proliferation of pathogens. This phenomenon is well-documented, but relatively rare and poorly understood. The latter is understandable as soils are mind-boggling biodiverse and complex. Aided by high throughput sequencing technologies and bioinformatics we begin to understand its functioning. In the TKI project we exploit state-of-the-art technologies to pinpoint the biological mechanism(s) that underlie native soil suppressiveness with regard to root-knot and cyst nematodes. By ‘learning from nature’ we intend to develop this sporadic phenomenon into a novel handle that could contribute to sustainable pathogen control in agro-ecosystems.

Bit of Background: 

Plant-parasitic nematodes are notorious pathogens for at least two reasons: they can lead to enormous crop losses and their control with nematicides – massively used in the recent past to manage these pathogens – has an enormous negative environmental impact. It should be noted that these losses are caused by a very small minority of the plant-parasitic nematodes (most of them ‘just nibble on root hairs’). Crop rotation and resistant plant varieties are durable management tools, but they are suitable for some nematode-crop combinations only. Hence, there is an urgent need to generate new, environmentally sound control measures, and making use of native disease suppressiveness is a very promising one. This project aims at ‘learning from nature’, and thereby provide a basis for a - for plant parasitic nematodes - underexploited management tool, biological control.