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Novel bioassays to examine the host-finding ability of plant-parasitic nematodes

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For more content, see Nematologica.

We present two novel bioassays to be used in the examination of plant-parasitic nematode host-finding ability. The hostfinding 'pipette-bulb assay' was constructed from modelled Pasteur pipette bulbs and connecting barrels using parafilm fastenings. This assay examines the direction of second-stage juvenile (J2) migration in response to a host seedling, through a moistened sand substrate, which underlies terminal upward-facing 'seedling bulbs', one containing a host seedling in potting compost, the other with only potting compost. An equal watering regime through both upward-facing seedling bulbs creates a directional concentration gradient of host diffusate chemotactic factors. Positive chemotactic stimuli cause the J2 to orientate and migrate towards the host plant. We present validation data collected from assays of the root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita, and the potato cyst nematode, Globodera pallida, which indicate a highly significant positive attraction of J2 of both species to respective host plants. This represents a simple, quick and inexpensive method of assessing host-finding behaviour in the laboratory. We consider that the pipette-bulb assay improves on previous host-finding/chemo-attraction assays through creating a more biologically relevant environment for experimental J2; analysis is quick and easy, allowing the straightforward interpretation of results. In addition, we have developed an 'agar trough' sensory assay variant which we believe can be used rapidly to ratify nematode responses to chemical gustatory or olfactory cues. This was constructed from a water agar substrate such that two counting wells were connected by a raised central trough, all flooded with water. Two small water agar plugs were dehydrated briefly in an oven and then hydrated in either an attractant, repellent or water control; these plugs were then placed in the terminal counting wells and subsequently leached the attractant or repellent to form a concentration gradient along the central trough, which contained the initial J2 innoculum. Our data show that both M. incognita and G. pallida J2 are positively attracted to host diffusates. In addition, they displayed a strong repulsion in response to 1 M NaCl2. J2 of M. incognita displayed a mild aversion to a non-host oak root diffusate, whereas G. pallida J2 displayed a strong aversion to the same non-host diffusate; neither species responded to a compost leachate. We believe that the agar trough assay improves on previous methods by facilitating rapid diffusion of attractant or repellents. Both of the aforementioned assays were designed as tools to assess the impact of RNAi-based reverse genetics screens for gene targets involved in chemosensory orientation.

Affiliations: 1: Molecular Biosciences – Parasitology, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK; 2: Agri-Food Biosciences Institute, Belfast, UK; 3: Molecular Biosciences – Parasitology, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK;, Email:


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