Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Upgrades of NMSU nematode lab to help local growers

Upgrades of NMSU nematode lab to help local growers DATE: 06/21/2016 WRITER: Kristie Garcia, 575-646-4211, kmgarcia@nmsu.edu CONTACT: Steve Thomas, 575-646-2321, stthomas@nmsu.edu Thanks to funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico State University Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science has made considerable upgrades to its nematode containment facility in Skeen Hall. “The lab is a resource for Southwest producers, to provide them with the certification of sites being free of nematodes,” NMSU Distinguished Professor Steve Thomas said. “It’s a way to work with any pests introduced at any time.” Nematodes are worms – most of which are microscopic – that are parasites living in animals, plants, soil or water. The lab in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU became one of three certified nematode containment facilities west of the Mississippi River in April 2012. The other two are in Nebraska and California. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service awarded two $50,000 grants to NMSU for upgrades to the nematode containment facility. APHIS is responsible for ensuring both imported and exported agricultural products are in compliance and free of certain pests. The facility is especially important to the agriculture community in Las Cruces and the Southwest, because three new nematodes have been discovered in the area in the past year: the alfalfa stem or stem and bulb nematode, the Columbia root-knot nematode and a general root-knot nematode. These discoveries could have a direct impact on New Mexico and Southwest regional producers, as the invasive pests can primarily affect alfalfa and onions. But with the upgraded containment facility at NMSU, researchers are able to inspect the onions during production, as opposed to the produce being inspected during export at international border crossings, which is very difficult. NMSU Agricultural Research Scientist Jacki Beacham is one of the researchers responsible for receiving and processing soil and plant samples. “My job is to ensure that none of the nematodes associated with those samples escape,” Beacham said. “Once I get them under the microscope, I look at their morphology and determine whether or not they need to be quarantined.” Beacham uses an elutriator – a machine used to separate particles based on weight – to extract nematodes from soil samples. Another important piece of equipment is the mist chamber. Along with the elutriator, the mist chamber was previously used by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture but had since been decommissioned. However, part of the USDA APHIS funding was used to modify and upgrade both machines to meet the standards of an approved quarantine facility for plant parasitic nematodes. The mist chamber is used to help nematodes migrate out of plant roots and plant leaves by providing a water mist every minute or two for 20 seconds in order to force the nematodes out. If the facility is able to successfully accommodate and inspect a large amount of plant samples at one time, Thomas said one objective of the grant will have been achieved. “The first objective of the grant is to increase the through-put capacity of the lab, to be able to handle large volumes of samples from the region, whenever such a situation becomes necessary,” he said. “The second objective is working at improving molecular characterization skills for plant parasitic nematodes of regulatory concern.” Associate professor of molecular plant pathology Steve Hanson is the co-investigator on the grant. Part of the funding was used for new equipment, which has improved the molecular characterization of nematodes, and therefore, allows the process to be more rapid and definitive. Thomas said Hanson is currently working on improving those molecular characterization techniques. “Of the top 10 most widely regulated plant parasitic nematodes internationally, two of them are very well characterized and the other eight have much more limited characterization, so we’ve been working on one of those other eight that is a potential problem in the Southwest,” Thomas said. NMSU is in its second year of working on facility upgrades, which should be completed by the end of August.

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