Besides paying attention to pests, bacteria, fungi and viruses affecting crops in general, producers should also beware of nematodes, also known as roundworms, as they can cause millions in crop losses. 

The primary means of controlling them is the extensive use of nematicides; however, these compounds are expensive, highly toxic, and dangerous to the environment, said Alejandra Rougon Cardoso, a researcher at the National Graduate School (ENES) in Mexico, who is heading a research project focused on studying nematodes of agricultural importance. 

The project, funded by the National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT), aims at sequencing the genome of a nematode of the genus Ditylenchus, of which there is little information, so that the doctor and her team can control this infection in garlic. 

The researchers are collaborating with a Polish research institution, so they can compare European and Mexican strains, to be able to predict which genes will be found in their genome and determine their role in the pathogenesis process. 

The proposed nematode has many hosts and one of them is the garlic during its different stages; "Garlic might be infected, even from the time it is planted, and this organism can remain in the soil and plant material for up to 10 years, in a kind of dormancy, until it finds a suitable way to grow again," said Rougon. 

This parasite represents a latent risk for the country, particularly in Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Nuevo Leon, Chiapas, Campeche, Quintana Roo and Guanajuato, where there are large areas planted with potential hosts for the nematode, such as garlic, onions, oats, potatoes, corn and alfalfa, "whose production exceeds 119 million dollars a year," she stated. 

If this nematode were to establish itself in these areas, it could devastate many plantation areas, especially of garlic, a vegetable that is grown in 25 states. In 2013, Mexico produced more than 59,000 tons of garlic. 

The nematode proposed by the university is a species that is regulated by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, an intergovernmental entity that considers this parasite is under control. Thus, if it were detected in the products exported by Mexico, it would bring about strong trade restrictions and the production would have to be destroyed, which implies great economic losses. 

The presence of regulated organisms is sometimes underestimated, so there's no idea what the extent of the damage would be, she stressed. 

The most efficient nematicides have bee banned in the last few years because of the danger they pose, which has caused a re-emergence of problems in crops, caused by parasitic nematodes. Therefore, "its urgent to find new measures to control pathogenic nematodes. One way to identify new control strategies is through genomic studies and gene expression during their interaction with the host plant," she stated. 

Rougon said these studies were conducted by analyzing the bio-information in high performance computers, such as the one the ENES Leon has, and the Miztli supercomputer at the UNAM. 

This project is part of the Bachelor of Agro-economical Sciences recently opened at the university, which combines agricultural and genomic sciences in order to train professionals so that they are capable of identifying and solving the sector's problems while protecting the environment. 

"We want to promote the Agro-economics Sciences Laboratory as a leader in genomic research of agricultural importance in the country," concluded the researcher. 

Source: Diario La Prensa