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How do nematodes hijack root development in plants?

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Jose Gutierrez-Marcos & Dr. Andre Pires da Silva - School of Life Sciences

PhD project title: How do nematodes hijack root development in plants?

University of Registration: Warwick

Project outline:

The plant root interface undergoes a dynamic range of interactions with other soil organisms. In many cases these can be beneficial, such as with plant growth promoting bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, whereas a compatible interaction with a parasite or pathogenic microorganism can have devastating consequences on plant growth and yield. Root-knot nematodes (RKN) are obligate parasitic worms that invade plant root systems, are able to infest almost all vascular plants and are widespread over most cultivated agricultural regions. The success of RKN infection relies on establishing permanent feeding sites within the central vascular cylinder of the root, which is essential for its growth and reproduction. To aid the transfer of plant nutrients, RKN are able to de-differentiate root vascular cells and convert them into specialized nutrient-transfer cells known as “giant cells” (GC). However, the precise molecular mechanisms by which nematodes can manipulate cell differentiation in roots remains unknown.

The student will investigate the molecular genetic basis of root nematode infestation by using a multidisciplinary approach (genome editing, next-generation-sequencing and computational data analysis). The group of JGM has developed a high-throughput assay to identify factors required for nematode roots infestation. This methodology allows the analysis of nematode infestation, which will reveal the precise mechanisms they trigger to direct root cell de-differentiation (month 6-18). In addition, the student will conduct a transcriptomic analysis at different time points of infection to reveal the key transcriptional networks involved in this extreme developmental re-programming (month 8-24). The student will also identify the key nematode factors required for cellular reprogramming and generate genetic lesions using genome-editing tools developed in APdS group (month 18-30).

Collectively, the student will contribute to the identification of genetic factors involved in nematode infestation and will advance our understanding, at the cellular and molecular level, of how parasitic nematodes infect plants. More importantly, these findings will equip us with the knowledge to improve resistance in agronomical important plant species in the near future.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

The student will use a wide range of molecular, histological and computational techniques:

  • Confocal microscopy and cryo-electron tomography for 3D cellular reconstruction
  • Functional genomic analysis in root nematodes (CRISPR/Cas9)
  • RNA and protein in situ localisation (whole mount and in histological sections)
  • Gene expression profiling by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)
  • Computational analysis for 3D image reconstruction and sequence analysis

Contact: Dr Jose Gutierrez Marcos, University of Warwick