History of Nematology

          Rev:  01/01/2020
  1. in medicine and human health
  2. in crops and agriculture
  3. as a scientific discipline
  4. A History of Nematology in California

Contributing factors in historical chronology:

  1. Importance to man
  2. Visibility of organism or visibility of symptoms
  3. Development of useful tools and techniques:

Considered the father of microscopy, Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) (Dutch) developed methods for grinding curved lenses.  That led to his building a compound microscope and an enormous array of discoveries of biology at the microscopic scale.  Prior to that, around 1590, two Dutch father and son manufacturers of eyeglasses, Zaccharias and Hans Janssen discovered that nearby objects appeared greatly enlarged when several lenses were assembled in a tube. Galileo (1609) expanded on the Janssen experiments, established the principles of lenses, and developed a more advanced telescope that could be focussed.

Walter Carter et al., in Hawaii.  Yield differences of treated and untreated.

Glandular and secretory products; host-parasite interactions

Surface features revealed

Crick, Watson and Wilkins Dougherty and Brenner Brenner, Sulston, Horvitz Fire and Mello  
Structure of DNA Caenorhabditis as a model
for genetics and development
From gene to organism;
programmed cell death: Caenorhabditis elegans
RNA interference:
Caenorhabditis elegans
Nobel 1962 "In The Beginning Was The Worm" (Brown, 2003). Nobel 2002 Nobel 2006  
  1. Corresponding proliferation of workers in field
  2. Synchronous hiring and retirement
  3. Changes with advancements in science, new technology, the driving forces of public opinion, "soft" money, and special-interest groups; trend towards larger cross-disciplinary departments structures

Maggenti, 1981 an excellent source on general history.  

Also see " A History of Nematology in California" (Raski, Thomason, Chitambar and Ferris, 2002).

Pioneers in Nematology

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History by Location

Plant Nematology in Canada
Emeritus Professor Ralph H. Estey
Department of Plant Science, McGill University

        In writing this brief history of nematology in Canada, Nathan A. Cobb’s definition of the term “nematology” is being used (1), thus the vast amount of work that Canadians have done with nematodes in insects and other animals is being omitted. That work is usually considered to be in the realm of Parasitology.

        In the beginning, entomologists were in the forefront of nematology in Canada. Their early interest in nematodes associated with plants may be seen in the minutes of their meetings during the latter part of the nineteenth century. For example, the minutes of the meeting of the Microscopical Section of the Entomological Society of Ontario, March 6,1896, show that the members examined roots of rose plants that were infected by nematodes.(2)

        In the Annual Report of the Division of Entomology, of the Dominion Department of Agriculture for 1913, and again in 1914, there are references to the finding of nematodes associated with the roots of wheat plants. Both of these were investigated by Entomologist Edgar H. Strickland (1889-1962) part of whose work is believed to have been the first attempt to record, illustrate, and identify nematodes associated with plants in Canada.

        Entomologists were not the only ones interested in, or concerned about nematode damage to plants. As early as 1911, J.W. Crow, the professor of Pomology at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, was advocating the use of steam as an effective means of eradicating “eelworms” from greenhouse soil (3). At about the same time, the Dominion Botanist, Dr. Hans T. Gussow (1879-1961), was talking to members of a Horticultural Society in Ontario about nematodes and decaying tulip bulbs. A few years later, when he wrote about wheat diseases, he included “cockle”, a disease that he knew, from his experiences in Germany, was produced by nematodes (4).

        Plant Pathologists at the Field Laboratory of Plant Pathology, St. Catharine’s, Ontario, were among the first to suggest that nematodes may play an important part in the root rot complex of strawberry plants. They also photographed nematodes and their eggs in roots of those plants (5). Plant Pathologist Ralph C. Russell (1896-1964), working out of the Dominion Agricultural Research Station, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, discovered nematodes on roots of wheat plants that were later described as a new species, by American Nematologist Gerald Thorne (6)

        A survey of the areas devoted to narcissus production in the Lower Fraser Valley and the southern part of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, provided convincing evidence that the decline in production was due to parasitism by Tylenchus dipsaci, the nematode that had been illustrated by the Dominion Botanist, in the pamphlet he produced for narcissus growers in 1931. Armed with that information, Dr. William Newton (1893-1973), Officer-in-charge of the Dominion Laboratory of Plant Pathology at Saanichton persuaded the federal government to provide funds for a study of the situation, and if possible to find a cure.

        Newton hired Robert J. Hastings (1891-1971) and Jack E. Bosher, neither of whom had training in nematology. However, those two, together with Newton, produced more than a dozen papers on their nematode investigations in the decade following 1930. They knew that steam sterilization of the soil was a way to control nematodes in greenhouse soil, but because few greenhouses in southern British Columbia were steam heated, they worked out an effective chemical method for control in greenhouses (7). Hastings and Bosher were the first in Canada to discover a synergistic effect when nematodes and fungi were jointly involved in a plant disease. The work of Hastings was considered to have been so valuable to their industry that the Northwest Bulb Growers Association broke a precedent and dedicated the 1952 volume of their Proceedings to him. When Hasting retired in 1950 he was succeeded by William R. Orchard, who, in 1965, discovered the golden nematode, Heterodera rostochiensis, on potatoes growing on the Saanich Peninsula. That was the second confirmed report of this nematode species in Canada. The first having been its discovery, by Plant Pathologist Dr. Orvil Olsen, in Newfoundland, in 1961.Those discoveries stimulated the development of nematology in western Canada and nematologist Dr. Fred D. McElroy was added to the staff of the Canada Department of Agriculture Research Station in Vancouver, in 1967. When he moved out of the Province he was succeeded by Nematologist, Dr. Thierry C. Vrain, who, later, was elected President of the Society of Nematologists.
        Except for a flurry of activity around the time of its discovery, there was no similar increase in plant nematological activity in Newfoundland because of the golden nematode.

        In eastern Canada, Entomologist John P. Spittall found root knot nematodes in strawberry roots near Weymouth, Nova Scotia, in1926, but there has never been a resident nematologist stationed in the Provinces of Nova Scotia or New Brunswick Ten years later, Richard R. Hurst, Officer-in-charge of the Laboratory of Plant Pathology in Prince Edward Island, was finding nematodes associated with the roots of forage legumes (8), but a Nematology Laboratory was not established on that Island Province until after the potato rot nematode was discovered there in1945.

        In August 1931, Harold D. Brown found some nematodes associated with “unhealthy” sugar beets in Ontario. The nematodes were eventually diagnosed as Heterodera schachtii, a new sugar beet parasite for Canada. No further infestations of sugar beets in Ontario were discovered until 1939, when a new area of infestation was found. In the meantime there was a problem with spring grain crops in parts of Ontario. That problem was determined, by Dr. Donald F. Putnam and Lyman J. Chapman, to be caused by the oat race of Heterodera schachtii (9)

        The finding that nematodes were the cause of reduced yields in both sugar beets and oats in Ontario prompted both the Provincial and the Federal Departments of Agriculture to spend more money for nematode investigations. As a consequence of this, the federal department established a “Nematode Investigations Unit,” in 1939, with entomologist Dr. Alexander D. Baker (1894-1974) in charge. Eventually, Baker was placed in charge of Nematology in Ottawa, a position which he held until he retired in 1962. In 1945, Baker published a summary account of where nematodes had been found in Canada. (10)
        Scientists who worked in the Nematology Laboratory, in Ottawa, and their years of service there, include: V. Henderson, (1946-64); R. Mulvey, (1951-79) who became a world authority on root-knot and cyst forming nematodes, and succeeded Baker as Chairman when he retired; Anna Brown, (1952-58) who was the first to name and describe a plant parasitic nematode in Canada and helped to establish the National Nematode Collection; Dr. S. A. Sher, (1953); B. E. Brown, (1955-56) ; M. Khan, (1955-57); Dr. L-Y Wu, (1956-75); Dr. K. Sanwal, (1958-71); B. Hopper, (1959-72); Dr. R. Anderson, (1965-91), who succeeded Mulvey when he retired; Dr. B. Ebsary, (1977-90); and Dr. E. Eveleigh, (1980-82). There have been no Plant Nematologists in the Ottawa laboratory since Anderson retired, consequently, it has become the task of Dr. Sylvia Miller, in nearby Nepean, to do a multiplicity of jobs in the realm of nematology.

        In the early days of Nematology in Canada, officials in Canada Department of Agriculture decided that there should be a laboratory for nematological research in the rich agricultural area of the Niagara Peninsula, and one was established at Vineland Station. Nematologists who have made significant contributions to the science of Nematology while working there include: Dr. W. Mountain; J. Townshend; Dr. Th. Olthof; Dr. F. Marks; Dr. E. Riga, and Dr. J. Potter. The latter published “A Selective History of Nematology in Canada” in the Nematology News Letter, March 1998. Prior to that Dr. Ralph Estey had a chapter on the beginning of nematology in Canada in his 1994 book, “Essays on the Early History of Plant Pathology and Mycology in Canada.” Ralph was the first one in Canada to teach Nematology as a graduate course. That was at McGill University in Montreal. Others who have taught Nematology at the university level include: Dr. Jean Finney-Crawley at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland; Dr. Stephen Fushty (1924-1993), at Guelph University, Ontario; and Dr. John Webster at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. Incidentally, John, a Fellow of the Society of Nematologists, has published more books, book reviews and scientific papers on Nematology than anyone else in Canada.

        Many plant pathologists, and students doing research projects for advanced degrees in Canadian Universities, have worked with nematodes. Their contributions to the development of plant Nematology in Canada is acknowledged but not included in this brief history.

        At the present time (March 2002) there are only seven working Nematologists in Canada. From East to West, they are: Jean Finney-Crawley, in Newfoundland, Joe Kimpinsky, in Prince Edward Island; Guy Belair, in Quebec; John Potter and Sylvia Miller, in Ontario; Thierry Vrain and Jack Sutherland in British Columbia.

                                           Key  References

1. Cobb, N. A. 1932. Contributions to a science of Nematology: Part I. Antarctic free-living nematodes of the Shackelton expedition. (Baltimore 1914) See also, Journal of the American Medical Association 98 (1932), 75.
2. The original Minute Books are in the Library of the University of Guelph.
3. Crow, J. W. 1913. Report of the Professor of Pomology. In Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for 1912, (Ontario) Vol. 1. 1913.
4. Gussow, H. T. 1919. ‘Take all,’ flag smut and ’ear cockle’ of wheat. Agricultural Gazette of Canada 6: 1-4.
5. Hildebrand, A.A. and L.W. Koch. 1936. A microscopical study of infection of the roots of strawberry and tobacco seedlings by micro-organisms of the soil. Can. J. Res. “C” 14: 11-26.
6. Russell, R. C. 1927. A nematode discovered on wheat in Saskatchewan. Sci. Agric. 6: 385-386. See also Sci. Agric. 8:707-711
7. Hastings, R. J., Bosher, J. E. and W. Newton. 1952. The revival of the narcissus bulb eelworm, Ditylenchus dipsaci (Kuhn) Filipjev, from sub lethal hot-water treatments.  Sci. Agric. 32: 333-336.
8. Hurst, R.R. 1927. Report of the Dominion Field Laboratory of Plant Pathology, Charlottetown, P.E.I. In Report of the Dominion Botanist for 1926. 24: 8.
9. Putnam, D. F. and L. J. Chapman, 1935. Oat seedling diseases in Ontario. 1 The oat nematode, Heterodera schachtii Schur.  Sci. Agric. 15: 633-651.
10. Baker, A.D. 1945. Records of Plant-Parasitic Nematodes in the Dominion of Canada.  Canadian Insect Pest Review 23: Supplement to No.1.


Updated 28 March 2002

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