• Open Access

Resistance to root-knot nematode in tomato roots expressing a nematicidal Bacillus thuringiensis crystal protein


* Correspondence (fax (858) 822-0808; e-mail raroian@ucsd.edu)


Our laboratory has demonstrated previously that Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crystal (Cry) proteins present in the Cry5 and Cry6 subclades intoxicate free-living nematodes. In this study, we tested whether the expression of nematicidal Cry6A in transgenic plants provided protection against plant-parasitic nematodes. As bacterial codon usage is incompatible with expression in plants, two different codon-modified cry6A genes were synthesized for expression in plants. One was designed by maintaining codon diversity whilst removing codons not common in plants, and the other was designed by selecting the optimal codon for each amino acid based on the Arabidopsis genome. Both versions of the cry6A gene, driven by the constitutive cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter, were introduced into tomato roots via Agrobacterium rhizogenes. Although both were found to express Cry6A protein, the codon diversity gene generated superior expression. These Cry6A-expressing roots were then challenged with root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita. Three different infection parameters were compared between Cry6A-expressing roots and control roots transformed with empty vector or green fluorescent protein (GFP). These data demonstrated that M. incognita was able to ingest the 54-kDa Cry6A, and that Cry6A intoxicated the parasitic nematode, as indicated by a decrease in progeny production of up to fourfold. These results indicate, for the first time, that a Bt Cry protein can confer plant resistance to an endoparasitic nematode, and that Cry proteins have the potential to control plant-parasitic nematodes in transgenic plants.