The objectives will be achieved by the integration of researchers with experience in the field of biological and integrated control of plant-parasitic-nematodes, organic and integrated vegetable production, and on molecular characterisation of plant-nematode interactions. Standard techniques will be used to maintain and multiply the nematode and the fungus isolates and to produce inoculum (Task 1). The same isolates from both genera will be maintained at CFE/FCT/UC and IPVC simultaneously. Plants respond rapidly to the presence of pathogens and to evaluate the potential trade-offs in investment in plant defence and susceptibility to nematode attack, small scale trials will take into account the influence of a number of variables, including the effects of different plant defence activator concentrations and application methods (Task 2). These bioassays will be run at CFE/FCT/UC.
As rhizosphere colonization by the fungus is essential for nematode control, and varies among different plant species and cultivars, small pot bioassays will be performed at IPVC to find a compatible match between P. chlamydosporia and a given plant cultivar and to promote colonization of the rhizosphere very early on, in young plantlets before they are transferred to the field (Task 3).
The identification of pathogenicity and defence-related genes differentially expressed during the plant-nematode-fungus interactions will be studied using quantitative PCR at BIONEMAX (Task 4). This will help to clarify the molecular mechanisms behind the improved nematode control obtained under laboratory conditions.
Finally, to establish a proof-of-concept on the combination of nematode control methods, a large pot trial in field conditions (polythene tunnel, mimicking commercial cultivation) will be established at IPVC, with the collaboration of CFE/FCT/UC and BIONEMAX, using the management strategy that strengthens the natural plant defence mechanisms combined with the use of a biocontrol agent in grafted plants (Task 5). An applied perspective will be considered, so parameters on tomato yield and fruit quality will be recorded. Treatment interactions and overall effects will be assessed with proper statistics to evaluate the contribution and interaction of applying combinations of nematode control methods.
Knowledge acquired during the project will be used to raise public awareness of nematode problems and current alternative control strategies in an Exhibition/Open Day that will be held at IPVC with the collaboration of CFE/FCT/UC and BIONEMAX (Task 6). This will also serve as an opportunity to exchange knowledge and discuss ideas with nurseries, growers and collaborators.
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