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International Spotlight On Tiny Worms

A typical sample of nematodes in the soil around plant roots containing about 40 different species. Photo by Dr Mike Hodda, CSIRO.
by Staff Writers
Brisbane, Australia (SPX) Jul 18, 2008
Nematodes, their importance and management, will bring 350 scientists from 36 countries together at the 5th International Congress of Nematology (ICN) in Brisbane.

"Nematode plant pests cost about 10 per cent of world food production so research on these tiny worms is vitally important to humans," says Dr Mike Hodda from CSIRO Entomology and the Convenor of the 5ICN Organising Committee and President of the Australasian Association of Nematologists.

"Although small, nematodes affect humans in many ways and topics at the conference will reflect this," he says. "Some can have devastating effects on the health of humans, their animals and their plants, but others benefit agriculture through enhancing nutrient cycling in soil."

In these times of world food shortages, better ways of managing nematode plant pests are urgently needed as nematodes are evolving resistance to many of the commonly used chemicals.

Nematodes - commonly called roundworms - are mostly tiny, though a few reach nearly 10 m long. Being small, they are hidden but they can cause enormous damage. They can also easily evade quarantine, so introduction of pest species is a real issue.

Dr Sue Hockland from the Central Science Laboratory, York, UK will talk on emergencies in international trade, biosecurity and quarantine from potentially invasive nematode pests. Several of these have arrived in Australia's neighbours recently and threaten our agriculture and forests.

"We will also hear how nematodes can thwart soil conservation projects and kill forests," Dr Hodda says.

On a positive note, Dr Stephen Trowell from the Food Futures National Research Flagship will compare the sense of smell of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans with those of more complex creatures. This nematode, the first animal to have its genome fully sequenced, is being used to advance biomedical knowledge in many fields, from cancer to aging.

Other talks will focus on the control of pest insects using commercially-produced nematode parasites.

Nematodes are found everywhere from the poles to the tropics, from the deepest ocean floors to the highest peaks and in and on other animals. If everything else on earth disappeared, then it would all still be visible, outlined by the billions of nematodes that occur in every possible niche.

The ICN is held every six years under the auspices of the International Federation of Nematology Societies. The 2008 event is hosted by the Australasian Association of Nematologists.

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