Plant-parasitic nematodes are a major threat to crop production and food safety worldwide. The hallmark of all plant-feeding nematodes is the presence of a needle-like structure in the mouth region, which is used to penetrate plant cell walls. Many plant-parasitic nematodes engage in a prolonged and intimate relationship with their host plants on which they fully depend for development and reproduction. Infection of plant roots often involve complex alterations in host cell morphology and function, seemingly without activating the innate immune system of their hosts.
Secretions released by infective juvenile nematodes are thought to be crucial for host invasion, for nematode migration inside the plant, the transformation of host cells into specialised feeding structures and the manipulation of the host's development We aim to unravel the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms to better understand host susceptibility and nematode virulence.
Plant-parasitic nematodes suppress the host plant defense responses by secreting all kinds of molecules. At the same time, immune receptors in- and outside the cell can detect these nematode molecules, which activates the host’s resistance response. Our aim is to resolve the molecular pathways involved in nematode detection and plant immunity to improve crop resistance.
Last, but not least, we study the effect of plant-parasitic nematodes on plant health, including their performance, growth, and development. This also includes the impact of biotic and abiotic factors on plant-nematode interactions. We also study host adaptation and plant tolerance responses. Our research focuses on the plant-nematode interaction in a broad context with emphasis on the molecular dialogue and the role of the microbiome in the rhizosphere.