Student Research Spotlight - Nursyafiqi Zainuddin
Posted: April 29, 2016
Following their nose: How farmers’ enemies find their food
By Karly Regan
Do you start salivating at the scent of barbeque food on the 4th of July? Some insect species may react similarly when they smell crop plants! In his Ph.D. research at Penn State University, Nursyafiqi Zainuddin plans to study how the scent of different varieties of carrots can determine whether they are appealing to a nematode pest.
“The nematode I study is hard to control and can cause devastating amounts of damage to many different crops,” says Zainuddin.
Nematodes are very small worms that reside in the soil. Zainuddin’s research will focus on Pratylenchus penetrans, which feeds on the roots of plants, such as carrots. Interestingly, these nematodes appear to be much more attracted to some plant varietals than others. By investigating chemical differences between varieties that are more or less attractive to the nematodes, Zainuddin hopes to understand what influences nematode feeding preferences and develop better management strategies for this pest.
For his studies, Zainuddin plans offer nematodes different varieties of carrots and see which ones the nematode prefers. Carrots were chosen because they have a stronger scent than other crops. Zainuddin will then evaluate the chemical profiles of these different carrot varietals, to identify the chemicals that attract the nematode.
Once Zainuddin identifies the chemicals that make a carrot more or less attractive, he plans to find the genes responsible for the scent. Plant breeders could then use this information to select for varieties of carrots that are less attractive to these nematodes. By reducing their attractiveness, carrots - and other crops - could be saved from these damaging pests.