Sequencing the genomes of two critically-important biological control agents, the insect-killing nematodes Steinernema feltiae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora
CSANR Project 125
Potatoes are a valuable Washington crop that is threatened by devastating insect pests. We have found (1) that insect-killing “entomopathogenic” nematodes (EPNs) are key natural enemies of these insects, and (2) that organic farming greatly increases EPN genetic diversity. Additionally, genetically-diverse mixes of EPN strains are more lethal to insects than any single worm strain. We would like to identify the specific genes that allow different EPN strains to “complement” one another in killing pests. Unfortunately, our efforts have been limited by the lack of well-constructed reference genomes for the two most common species of EPNs in Washington, Steinernema feltiae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. We propose to use the third-generation advanced sequencers now available at WSU and U Idaho (e.g., the PacBio RS and Illumina sequencers) to construct high-coverage genomes of these two species, and to compare gene-activity patterns within EPN pairs that complement one another in killing pest insects. Insect-killing nematodes can be used as bio-pesticides. Understanding the traits that make worms lethal to pests will allow us to design effective bio-pesticide blends, and to conserve and enhance beneficial nematode biodiversity on farms. Thus, our project will develop novel approaches to pest management that increase the sustainability of farming systems.