Courtesy of Horacio Lopez-Nicora
Soybean plants are often victims of devastating attacks.
Their predator, the soybean cyst nematode, swoops in unannounced. These worm-like parasites infect the roots and trick the plant into feeding it instead of its own seeds.
But Horacio Lopez-Nicora, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Plant Pathology, is working to combat this pest.
“(The soybean cyst nematode is) the one that causes the most economical damage,” Lopez-Nicora said. “We’re talking about like $1.5 billion a year.”
And people are taking notice of the gravity of Lopez-Nicora’s work. He recently became the first graduate student to hold a position on the Society of Nematologists’ executive board.
The microscopic worms infect the soybean plant and in about a months time, lay their eggs in a sac-like substance called a gelatinous matrix.
One of the leading hypotheses is that the gelatinous matrix protects the eggs from other organisms that would destroy them, but it could be doing something else, Lopez-Nicora said.
He is trying to figure out what the gelatinous matrix is made of so environmentally friendly methods to control the microscopic worms can be produced.
Another project that Lopez-Nicora is working on involves helping produce soybean plants that are resistant to the soybean cyst nematode. Plant breeders send samples of soybean plants to the OSU Department of Plant Pathology so they can be tested against different populations of the microscopic worms. Researchers then infect the plants with the nematodes and observe how resistant they are to specific populations.
Logan Dunn, a fourth-year in environmental policy and management, said he thinks Lopez-Nicora’s research is “fantastic.”
Lopez-Nicora assumed his position at the Society of Nematologists meeting following his appointment to the executive board.
At that meeting, Lopez-Nicora’s poster, which gave an overview of his research, won first prize in a competition. He thought his poster had just been submitted for viewing, not actually entered to compete.
“We were sitting in this banquet where they were going to announce the winners and with my boss there, and she’s telling me, ‘You should have competed, you should have competed,'” Lopez-Nicora said. “And all of a sudden, I was in the competition and I won.”
As the chair of the graduate student committee of the Society of Nematologists, Lopez-Nicora acts as its voice when he goes to the executive board meetings. He serves as the voice of three other committees as well.
“I think it’s great because I get to participate in a lot of meetings and hearing a lot of what people are doing and what things are changing,” Lopez-Nicora said.
Patrick Sherwood, a Ph.D. student in plant pathology, approved of Lopez-Nicora’s accomplishments.
“It’s great for him. I know he’s been working really hard,” Sherwood said.
He said he was glad to have Lopez-Nicora in the Department of Plant Pathology.
Abasola Simon, a graduate student in plant pathology, said Lopez-Nicora is a good “role model” for him. He will also work with nematodes and hopes to be a member of the Society of Nematology someday.
“You rarely see students with that kind of an appetite for that field of study,” Simon said.