Nematodes comprise a worm family so large it literally covers the earth. They range in size from less than a micron in length to as much as 26 feet. Worldwide interest has begun to focus on microscopic nematodes that live with symbiotic bacteria.
Microscopic entomopathogenic nematodes measure just microns in length. (Photo: Patricia Stock)
"We study these nematodes - which are actually insect killers - not only to understand how diverse they are, but also to use them as biological control alternatives," says Patricia Stock, a nematomologist in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We want to see how they interact with the local insects. Using native biological control alternatives is more environmentally friendly than importing other pest control agents."
Known as entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN), the juvenile stage of these tiny worms travels with bacteria in its intestine that specifically kill certain insect species. Nematodes in the family Steinernematidae are associated with Xenorhabdus bacteria; those in the family Heterorhabditidae harbor Photorhabdus bacteria. Both types of EPN operate in similar ways. In the soil or in encrypted habitats such as the pockets behind the bark of trees, the juvenile nematode waits for (or sometimes actively seeks) an unsuspecting host - a grub or a larva - to jump on it and penetrate it through the insects natural openings - mouth, anus, spiracles. Or the nematode may enter the host directly by using a dorsal tooth.
Patricia Stock | EurekAlert!
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