Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Klink, Vincent

Committee Member

Ervin, Gary

Committee Member

Lawrence, Gary

Committee Member

Munn, Giselle

Committee Member

Coats, Karen

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Biological Sciences


The infection of plants by Heterodera glycines, commonly known as soybean cyst nematode (SCN), is a serious agricultural problem of worldwide extent. Meanwhile, it provides an excellent experimental model to study basic aspects of how cells function, in particular, during biotic challenge. Heterodera glycines challenges plant cells by initiating, developing and sustaining an interaction that results in the formation of a nurse cell from which the nematode derives nourishment. The presented experiments examine (1) how a cell can be de-differentiated and reprogrammed to perform a much different biological role and (2) how a cell’s immune responses can be engaged or suppressed to accomplish that goal. The observation of alpha soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein (alpha-SNAP) expression, its location within the rhg1 locus and known involvement in the vesicular transport machinery relating to defense made it a strong candidate for further functional analysis. Functional studies demonstrated that overexpression of alpha-SNAP in the susceptible G. max[Williams 82/PI 518671] genotype that lacks its expression results in the partial suppression of H. glycines infection. This indicated that the vesicles could be delivering cargo to the site of infection to engage a defense response. High levels of expression of a cell wall modifying gene called xyloglucan endotransglycosylase also occur during defense. XTHs associate with vesicles, act in the apoplast outside of the cell, and have a well-known function in cell wall restructuring. These observations indicated that alterations in the cell wall composition of nurse cells could be important for the successful defense response. Overexpression of a G. max xyloglucan endotransglycosylase (Gm-XTH) in the susceptible G. max[Williams 82/PI 518671] genotype resulted in a significant negative effect on H. glycines as well as R. reniformis parasitism. The results, including preliminary experiments on components of the vesicle transport system, identify a potent mechanism employed by plants to defend themselves from two types of plant-parasitic nematodes.