16 March 2023

Tiny worms, big damage: NWO grant for nematode research

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Rik Korswagen, group leader at the Hubrecht Institute, and Jose Lozano Torres, researcher at the Laboratory of Nematology at Wageningen University, received an NWO Open Technology Program grant for their research project on plant parasitic nematodes. Nematodes are microscopically small organisms that live in the soil. Plant parasitic nematodes form an increasing threat to the global food security.

The NWO Open Technology Program focuses on research that should lead to applicable knowledge and gives companies the opportunity to join this type of scientific research in an easy way. Six projects received a total of 4.7 million euros. Involved companies and organizations invest an additional 1.1. million euros.

Nematodes are tiny worms that can infect plants and cause damage. When nematodes infect a plant, they can cause the plant to create a special structure called a feeding cell that is designed to feed the nematode, stealing nutrients away from the plant. These feeding cells can range from individual cells to groups of merged cells.

Rik Korswagen and Jose Lozano Torres want to understand how these cells have evolved and how they develop after nematode infection. To study these structures, they will use spatial transcriptomics (tomo-seq) to see which genes are turned on and off in specific parts of infected tomato roots. Next, they will use this information to find novel strategies to block feeding cell formation to limit the damage the nematodes can cause to the plant. Blocking feeding cell formation will create a broad resistance to parasitic nematodes that is non-specific and durable. In collaboration with top Dutch seed companies, these findings will be translated into novel nematode-resistant crop varieties for the consumer market.

More information on the project

Name of the project: “Stepping down the evolutionary stairway of feeding cell induction by plant parasitic nematodes with spatial transcriptomics at near-cellular level to design resistant crops”.

Applicants: Jose Lozano Torres (Wageningen University & Research) and Rik Korswagen (Hubrecht Institute & Utrecht University).

The project will start at the end of 2023 and lasts for five years.

For more information, see the NWO website.

Portrait image of Rik Korswagen



Rik Korswagen is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and professor of Molecular Developmental Genetics at Utrecht University