What can scientists learn about human neurodegenerative disease from a major soybean pest? It’s not a trick question; the answer lies in the soybean cyst nematode, one of two classes of microscopic roundworms known to lose and then regain mobility as part of their life cycle.
“This is an animal that basically undergoes neurodegeneration, including nearly complete muscle atrophy, and then is able to reverse it in later development. From a human health perspective, I’m excited about the possibilities this could hold,” says Nathan Schroeder, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and corresponding author on the new study.
Applying these findings to human neurodegenerative disease may still be a long way off, but the research could lead to important practical outcomes for soybean pest management. Soybean cyst nematode is the among the worst soybean pests in the United States and the world, causing more than a billion dollars in yield loss annually. Exploiting this mechanism, which appears to be unique to soybean cyst and root knot nematode, another finding in the study, could be very good news for the soybean industry.
NIFA supports this research through the Hatch Act.