Plant-parasitic nematodes (PPNs) cause severe damage to agricultural crops worldwide. As most chemical nematicides have negative environmental side effects, there is a pressing need for developing efficient biocontrol methods. Nematophagous microbes, the natural enemies of nematodes, are potential biocontrol agents against PPNs. These natural enemies include both bacteria and fungi and they use diverse methods to infect and kill nematodes. For instance, nematode-trapping fungi can sense host signals and produce special trapping devices to capture nematodes, whereas endo-parasitic fungi can kill nematodes by spore adhesion and invasive growth to break the nematode cuticle. By contrast, nematophagous bacteria can secrete virulence factors to kill nematodes. In addition, some bacteria can mobilize nematode-trapping fungi to kill nematodes. In response, nematodes can also sense and defend against the microbial pathogens using strategies such as producing anti-microbial peptides regulated by the innate immunity system. Recent progresses in our understanding of the signal pathways involved in microbe–nematode interactions are providing new insights in developing efficient biological control strategies against PPNs.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Biotic signalling sheds light on smart pest management'.