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This parasitic worm might hold the key to sustainable pesticides

A parasitic worm that causes billions of dollars of crop damage annually, could actually make plants more resilient in the face of disease, a new study finds. Using chemical compounds secreted by this parasite, the researchers on the new paper think they might be able to develop a sustainable pesticide for some of the world’s biggest crops, such as soybeans, rice, and wheat.

The parasites in question – nematodes also known as roundworms – produce a pheromone called ascaroside, which they use for communication between one another. The team of international researchers had carried out previous studies that showed that in the presence of this compound, plants increase their immune response – most likely as a hardwired defence mechanism against the parasites, which typically infest the soil around their roots.