, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 359-368
Date: 13 Jul 2010

Genetic improvement of the desiccation tolerance and host-seeking ability of the entomopathogenic nematode Steinernema feltiae

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Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) from the genus Steinernema (Steinernematidae) are used for biological control of insect pests. The infective stages of these nematodes are intolerant of extreme environmental conditions. Genetic improvement has been suggested as an approach for improving their ability to overcome these limitations. In this study, we bred a heterogeneous population of the EPN Steinernema feltiae Filipjev for desiccation tolerance (both rapid and slow) and enhanced host-seeking ability. We selected for tolerance of rapid desiccation by exposing infective juveniles (IJs) to ambient conditions (22–25°C; 50–65% r.h.) for 100 min. A survival rate of 80–90% was reached after ten selection cycles. To select for tolerance of slow desiccation, we exposed IJs to 97% r.h. for 72 h, followed by further exposure to 85% r.h. for an additional 72 h. A high survival rate (>85%) was obtained after 20 selection cycles. We selected for enhanced downward dispersal by forcing IJs to move through a sand column to reach larvae of last-instar Galleria mellonella placed at the bottom of the column. After 25 selection cycles, the majority (>75%) of these nematodes were found at the layer close to the insects. No reduction in fitness was detected in the selected populations. Nevertheless, the nematode population selected for enhanced downward dispersal displayed significantly higher infectivity than the foundation population. The population selected for slow desiccation was more tolerant of heat stress than the foundation population. These findings establish the basis for improvement of this nematode for use as a biological control agent under field conditions.