Alessandro Cabianca

PhD student

Research interests and past works

As an aspiring researcher, I am fascinated by the interactions between phytopathogens and their host plants. Since 2019 I am part of the nematology team of Agroscope, working on root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.), soilborne endoparasitic plant pathogens that invade host roots near the root tip, migrate to the vascular cylinder, and ultimately induce the formation of clusters of giant multinucleated cells on which they feed. This induced cell growth leads to the formation of large structures on infected roots called galls or knots, causing loss of production and/or marketability for farmers.

My work contributed to a better understanding of these pathogens, with previous studies including an investigation of nematode sterol uptake capabilities, a study on sterol-related genes in plant defense, and the identification of nematicidal compounds in biogas digestate slurry. A better understanding of these pathogens is fundamental in modern day agriculture, as root-knot nematodes are responsible for huge economic losses worldwide, and their presence in temperate regions, such as Europe, is expected to increase with global warming.

Characterization of Swiss Meloidogyne chitwoodi and M. fallax 

My PhD project will gravitate towards two root-knot nematode species, namely Meloidogyne chitwoodi and M. fallax. These two plant-parasitic nematodes are quarantine organisms in the EPPO region and Switzerland, and have several economically relevant crops as hosts (e.g. corn, wheat, potatoes, rape, carrots etc.). During my doctorate, I will work to increase our understanding of these pathogens, with a particular focus on Swiss populations.

A molecular characterization of M. chitwoodi and M. fallax will be carried out, including phylogenetic analyses of conserved genes. In this context, similarities between Swiss and international populations will be evaluated, leading to the identification of possible entry points of these pests in the country. In previous years, two races of M. chitwoodi have been identified, partially differing in their host range. Our project aims to determine which of these two races is present in Switzerland, to make the application of crop rotation control techniques more feasible. Another promising component of PPN control is the use of resistant plants: in this study, we will test several plant varieties reportedly resistant to other root-knot nematodes against Swiss M. chitwoodi and M. fallax populations. 

Finally, in close collaboration with Agroscope's nematology diagnostic team, we will continue to analyze positive M. chitwoodi and M. fallax samples to allow rapid identification of putative entry points of new populations and for M. chitwoodi race identification to allow more effective advice to affected farmers.

With this project, I aim to increase the information available on the Swiss populations of these quarantine organisms, and to help provide farmers with the tools they need to protect their crops.