Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana 61801, U.S.A.
Root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne javanica) are obligate sedentary endoparasites that must penetrate the host root to initiate their life cycle. Many enzymes are secreted by the nematode to facilitate host penetration; required enzymes may include pectate lyases and cellulases. Using differential screening, a class III pectate lyase, Mj-pel-1 (M. javanica pectate lyase 1), was cloned from a library enriched for esophageal gland genes. DNA gel blotting confirmed that the Mj-pel-1 gene was of nematode origin and a member of a small multigene family. In situ hybridization localized the expression of Mj-pel-1 to the basal cells of the esophageal glands, while immunolocalization detected the protein in the esophageal glands as well as on the exterior of the nematode, confirming that the protein is secreted. When MJ-PEL-1 was expressed in Pichia pastoris, the resulting protein was active. The pH optimum of MJ-PEL-1 was 10.0, and the enzyme was five times more active on pectate than on pectin. Like other class III pectate lyases, MJ-PEL-1 also displayed an absolute requirement for Ca2+. The root-knot nematode migrates through the middle lamella of the plant root; therefore, MJ-PEL-1 may be an important enzyme early in the infection process.