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"Soyjacked" -- The Discovery Files

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A group of scientists led by the University of Missouri have been studying the cyst nematode and have found clues as to how they use small chains of amino acids, or peptides, to feed on soybean roots. Now, nematodes engage in a little "molecular mimicry," producing identical peptides to activate the same process. Hijacking the stem cells to create feeding sites -- for nutrient delivery straight to nematode town.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Soyjacked.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Soy. A major-league crop with a multibillion dollar problem. It can be cut off at the knees by a parasite we can't even see.

(Sound effect: sinister music) The cyst nematode. Even its name is creepy.

A group of scientists led by the University of Missouri has been studying the insidious operation of these life-leechers for a while. Some 15 years ago, they found clues as to how nematodes use small chains of amino acids, or peptides, to feed on soybean roots. Now, with advances in sequencing technology, they've discovered something more.

Like humans, plants send out chemical signals to their stem cells to initiate various aspects of growth -- including the vascular system plants use to transport nutrients. The team found that nematodes engage in a little "molecular mimicry," producing identical peptides to activate the same process. Hijacking the stem cells to create feeding sites -- for nutrient delivery straight to nematode town.

The discovery could lead to new ways to make the soy plant more nematode resistant, bolstering the world's food supply. (Sound effect: football crowd) If science were football you might say we just got a page of the opposing team's playbook.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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