There are perhaps a many as one million species of nematodes. Some parasitic varieties can grow to a meter in length, but most are microscopic in size. They inhabit almost every environment imaginable, from salt water to soil, and even human bodies. But it isn’t the symbiosis between a parasitic nematode like hookworm and a human that Danielle Tom is interested in, her research in the Department of Integrative Biology at OSU concerns a particular nematode called Xiphinema americanum.
Despite the fact that nematodes cover most of the planet’s surface and there are probably billions of them thriving on the earth at any given moment, surprisingly little is still known about the worms. Xiphinema americanum, for instance, carries a bacteria specially designed to live inside it called Xiphinematobacter. Studying the evolutionary genomics of these species can help elucidate the phylogenetic, or evolutionary, history of both. This work is important to the United States Department of Agriculture, because Xiphinema americanum is a potential carrier for nepovirus, which can infect important crops like grapes, raspberries, and tobacco via these plants’ root systems, which the worm also exists in a symbiotic relationship with. This sort of an analysis, of an animal and its relationship to its environment at multiple levels of scale and with regard to multiple other species, is called systems biology.
To learn more about this exciting research and her personal journey into genomics and biology, tune into 88.7 FM to listen, or stream the show live here!