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Ph.D. perspective: nematode research with CIMMYT an ‘inspiring opportunity’

April 17, 2014

By Samad Ashrafi

Ashrafi is a Ph.D. candidate from Iran working with CIMMYT under Amer Dababat on a project funded by Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Plant parasitic nematodes in Iran threaten the production of agricultural commodities and cause significant economic hardships for farmers whose crops are damaged. Cyst-forming nematodes, in particular the Heterodera and Globodera species, cause similar problems throughout the world.

Samad Ashrafi works in a lab in Eskisehir, Turkey. (Photo: CIMMYT)

In Iran, national research institutions, universities, nongovernmental organizations and private companies study and monitor wheat pathogens with the aim of disseminating information. With my Ph.D. project, I hope to work with researchers involved in wheat disease investigations to share my results and outcomes and raise awareness on the role of biological control agents in controlling cereal cyst nematodes (CCNs).

Wheat and wheat-based products are among the most important agricultural products in Iran and, along with  rice, form the staple diet. In 2012, wheat production reached approximately 14 million metric tons, making Iran the 12th largest wheat producer in the world. The potential for improving wheat farming systems in Iran is enormous. There are several government-supported programs to encourage farmers to grow more wheat.

Farmers, however, face challenges from pathogens. The use of chemical pesticides has increased over the past several years. Iranian specialists warn about the residue of chemicals in agricultural products; therefore the government introduced legislation to set maximum residue limits for pesticides. Using biological control agents – which rely on natural enemies to control plant parasitic nematodes – will lessen the hazards of pesticides to human health and the environment. The findings from my research will help me gain insight into the biological control of CCNs in the Middle East, where climatic conditions and abiotic factors – especially water stress – can severely increase yield losses.

Samad Ashrafi (middle) samples for cyst nematodes in the field. (Photo: Amer Dababat)

My research will also promote understanding of the role of biological control in food safety. This, ultimately, will help plant protection research institutes in Iran motivate new students to study biopesticides and endemic bio-control agents for controlling plant parasitic nematodes. During the project period, I will learn to isolate non-pathogenic fungi and bacteria from wheat roots and from cysts; study the hospitality of the different wheat genotypes, ranging from resistant to susceptible, to host endophytes; study the mode of action present in resistant lines against CCNs; and genotype endophytes associated with wheat roots and cysts to species level by using molecular tools.

CIMMYT, with its network of partners, scientists and farmers, uses the latest agricultural research findings to fight hunger and increase food security around the world. Collaborating with others, helping farmers and sharing our ideas is an honor. Working with CIMMYT is an inspiring opportunity that helps us better understand the needs of farmers and make scientific research relevant to their needs. CIMMYT symbolizes hope for a world without hunger and poverty where we can trust our collaboration, our knowledge and our efforts to make a better life.

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