Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720, U.S.A.
Root-knot nematodes are obligate plant parasites that alter plant cell growth and development by inducing the formation of giant feeder cells. It is thought that nematodes inject secretions from their esophageal glands into plant cells while feeding, and that these secretions cause giant cell formation. To elucidate the mechanisms underlying the formation of giant cells, a strategy was developed to clone esophageal gland genes from the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne javanica. One clone, shown to be expressed in the nematode's esophageal gland, codes for a potentially secreted chorismate mutase (CM). CM is a key branch-point regulatory enzyme in the shikimate pathway and converts chorismate to prephenate, a precursor of phenylalanine and tyrosine. The shikimate pathway is not found in animals, but in plants, where it produces aromatic amino acids and derivative compounds that play critical roles in growth and defense. Therefore, we hypothesize that this CM is involved in allowing nematodes to parasitize plants.