Research in the Baum lab focuses on the compatible interaction between cyst nematodes and their hosts with particular emphasis on the soybean cyst nematode (Heterodera glycines) and the sugar beet cyst nematode (H. schachtii). To a smaller extent, some projects are dealing with the root-knot nematodes, Meloidogyne spp. This group of so-called sedentary endoparasitic phytonematodes represents the most damaging group of plant-parasitic nematode and is responsible for billions of annual losses. We are working to understand the molecular, genetic, and biochemical events of successful plant parasitism, the so-called compatible interaction. For this purpose, we are characterizing the signal transduction events leading to successful nematode establishment and parasitism with an ever increasing emphasis on cell biological approaches. These efforts include characterization of changes in plant and nematode gene expression during the different phases of parasitism, functional characterization of genes involved in the plant-nematode interaction, and most importantly, the study of nematode effector proteins, a group of molecules we call parasitism proteins.
We are frequently using the Arabidopsis thaliana model system because this plant is successfully infected by H. schachtii and gives us access to a wide variety of genetic and molecular resources. Ultimately, understanding the compatible plant-nematode interaction will allow us to interfere with parasitism through genetic engineering of host plants in order to solve major agricultural and horticultural problems. Currently, we are using an RNAi-based approach to decrease plant susceptibility to nematodes.