The research line of the group is centered in the study of the molecular basis of the interaction between endoparasitic nematodes and plants. The central objective is to understand molecular mechanisms of gene reprogramming that allow the development of feeding sites induced by the nematodes from root cells not yet determined. Those are root swellings called galls that contain several nourishing cells called giant cells. We combined molecular biology cell biology, transcriptomic approaches and bioinformatics.
Our first approaches were based on promoters activated in nematode feeding sites, among them the most relevant, those form the Geminivirus (Maize streak virus) and small heat-shock proteins. This was followed by holistic approaches to study specifically the giant cells formed by root-knot nematodes in Arabidopsis and tomato by combining transcriptomics to cell biology techniques, such as laser microdissection. A wide number of differentially expressed genes in giant cells as compared to vascular cells from non-infected tissues were identified what includes miRNAs which functions are being explored.
Another basic objective is to identify the cell types that the nematode reprogram to form the galls and giant cells. The nematodes alter developmental patterns already stablished in plants to induce those nourishing cells. Hence, we are comparing several routes and mechanisms of development-differentiation in the roots with that of galls/giant cells development. We started identifying a crucial transducer for gall development that is also central for the development of lateral roots and belongs to the lateral organ boundaries family of transcription factors, LBD16.
The final objective is to investigate nematode-control strategies based on plant-biotechnology that also could allow the combination to other methods, such as biopesticides for the integrated management, all in the context of sustainable agronomical systems. There is an urgent need to develop those methods because the agrochemicals are progressively banishing due to their toxicity and natural resistance is not an effective option any longer as its durability is being questioned.