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Charles Opperman


Biology and genomics of plant parasitic nematodes

Suite 1400, Partners II Building



Charles H. Opperman was born in New York City in 1957.  After an urban upbringing, including Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale, he received a B.S. in Agronomy (1981) and a Ph.D. in Nematology (1985) from the University of Florida. In 1985, Opperman went to Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co. as Senior Research Nematologist where he had responsibility for basic research on nematode neurobiology and behavior, primary and secondary screening of candidate nematicides, and field evaluations of advanced experimental compounds. Opperman moved to the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University in 1987, where he is currently Professor of Plant Pathology and Genetics, From 1998-2010, Opperman was a Lawes Trust Senior Fellow at the Institute for Arable Crop Research-Rothamsted, UK.


I utilize genomics tools to identify and characterize genes important in parasitism and development to understand relationships between parasitic and free-living nematodes, factors involved in host range and aggressiveness, genome organization as it relates to lateral gene transfer, evolution of specialization and niche selection, and interaction with nematode-parasitic bacteria. Though the primary focus of my research program has been on the root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp.) and soybean cyst nematode (Heterodera glycines), my interests have recently shifted to include the migratory endoparasitic lesion (Pratylenchus spp.) and burrowing (Radopholus similis) nematodes. These nematodes are pathogens of a diverse array of crops, including maize, soybean, citrus, banana, and the bioenergy crops Miscanthus and switchgrass. With collaborators David Bird (NCSU Plant Pathology) and Dan Rokhsar (JGI-DOE), I led the Meloidogyne hapla (root-knot nematode) genome sequencing project, which was completed in mid-2008. Meloidogyne hapla is the most robustly developed parasitic nematode model system; its sequence has enabled merging of the genetic and physical maps, which provides a unique platform for analysis of genes involved in parasitism and basic nematode biology. I will continue to exploit the M. hapla genome to investigate genome modifications to the parasitic lifestyle.

More recently, I have been involved in the acquisition of genome sequence from P. coffeae and R. similis. The genomes from these migratory endoparasitic nematodes are likely to shed light on the evolution of parasitic ability in nematodes, as well as provide clues to the evolution of specialization in the root-knot and cyst nematodes. A key finding from all of these genome sequencing projects is the relatively small gene numbers found in the migratory forms compared to the sedentary root-knot nematodes, which suggest that gene duplication and neofunctionalization may play a key role in evolution of the root-knot nematode. Combined with strong evidence for lateral gene transfer as a driving force in evolution, the nematode genome platforms provide key tools in the discovery of genes with novel functions in parasites.

Genome analysis of the obligate bacterial hyperparasite (Pasteuria penetrans) of root-knot nematode has revealed that P. penetrans carries a suite of collagen-like genes similar to parasitic Bacilli (Bacillus cereus, B. anthracis, B. thuringiensis) virulence factors. In collaboration with Keith Davies (University of Hertfordshire, UK), we have developed a model for attachment of the bacterial spores to the root-knot nematode cuticle prior to germination and infection. In this model, the P. penetrans collagen genes control both attachment and specificity and act as a type of molecular ‘velcro’. Further work has demonstrated that attachment can be blocked by treatment with collagen binding or denaturing molecules.

Selected Publications:

  • Thomas, V.P., Fudali, S.L., Schaff,J.E., LiuQ., Elizabeth H. Scholl, E.S., Opperman, C.H., BirdD.M., and Williamson, V.M.2012. A sequence-anchored linkage map of the plant-parasitic nematode Meloidogyne hapla reveals exceptionally high genome-wide recombination. G3: Genes, Genomes, and Genetics 2:815-824.
  • Reading, B.J., Chapman, R.W., Schaff, J.E., Scholl, E.A., Opperman, C.H., and Sullivan, C.V. 2011. An ovary transcriptome for all maturation stages of the striped bass (Morone saxitalis), a highly advanced perciform fish. BMC Research Notes 5:111 (12 pp.).
  • Davies, K.G., Rowe, J., Manzanilla-Lopez, R., and Opperman, C.H. 2011. Re-evaluation of the life-cycle of  the nematode-parasitic bacterium Pasteuria penetrans in root-knot nematodes, Meloidogyne spp. Nematology 13: 825-835 (11).
  • Cabrera, A. R., Donohue, K.V., Khalil, S.M., Scholl, E., Opperman, C.H., Sonenshine, D.E., and Roe, R.M. 2011. New approach for the study of mite reproduction: the first transcriptome analysis of a mite, Phytoseiulus persimilis (Acari: Phytoseiidae). Journal of Insect Physiology 52:52-61.
  • Mbeunkui, F., Scholl, E. S., Blackburn, K., Opperman, C. H., Goshe, M. B. and Bird, D. McK. 2010. Computational and experimental determination of the northern root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne hapla) proteome. Journal of Proteome Research 9: 5370-5381.
  • Bird, D. McK., and C. H. Opperman. 2009. The secret(ion) life of worms. Genome Biology 10:205.1-205.3
  • Bird, D.McK., Williamson, V.M., Abad, P., McCarter, J., Danchin, E., Castagnone-Serrano, P., and Opperman, C.H. 2009. Genome analyis of sedentary endoparasitic plant-parasitic nematodes. Annual Review of Phytopathology. 47: 333-351.
  • Opperman C. H., Bird D. M, Williamson V. M et al. 2008. Sequence and genetic map of Meloidogyne hapla: A compact nematode genome for plant parasitism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 105: 14802-14807 (supplemental material online).
  • Dhandaydham, M., Charles, L., Zhu, H., Starr, J.L., Huguet, T., Cook, D.R., Properi, J-M. Bird, D.M., and Opperman, C.H. 2008. Identification, characterization and mapping of a root-knot nematode resistance          gene in Medicago truncatula.  Journal of Nematology, 40: 46-54.
  • Davies, K.G., and Opperman, C.H. 2007. A potential role for collagen in the attachment of Pasteuria penetrans to the nematode cuticle. Multitrophic Interactions in the Soil and Integrated Control. IOBC wprs Bulletin 29 (2) 11-15.
  • Charles, L., Carbone, I., Davies, K., Burke, M., Kerry, B., Bird, D., and Opperman, C.H. 2005. A phylogenetic analysis of Pasteuria penetrans using multiple genetic loci. Journal of Bacteriology187:5700-5708.
  • Dong, K., Barker, K. R., and Opperman, C. H. 2005. Virulence Genes in Heterodera glycines: Allele frequencies and Ror gene groups among field isolates and inbred lines. Phytopathology 95:186-191.
  • Koltai, H., Dhandaydham, M., Opperman, C. H., ThomasJ. and D. McK. Bird. 2001. Overlapping plant signal transduction pathways induced by a parasitic-nematode and a rhizobial endosymbiont. Molecular-Plant Microbe Interactions 14,1168-1177.
  • Kaplan, D.T., and Opperman, C.H. 2000.  Reproduction strategies and karyotype of the burrowing nematode, Radopholus similisJournal of Nematology32, 126-133.
  • Kaplan, D.T., Thomas, W.K., Frisse, L., Sarah, J.L., Stanton, J.M., Speijer, P.R., Marin, D.H., and Opperman, C.H. 2000. Phylogenetic analysis of geographically diverse Radopholus similis via rDNA sequence reveals a monomorphic motif.  Journal Nematology 32, 134-142.
  • Opperman, C.H., and Bird, D.McK. 1998. The soybean cyst nematode, Heterodera glycines: a genetic model system for the study of plant-parasitic nematodes. Current Opinions in Plant Biology 1, 342-346.
  • Kaplan, D.T., and Opperman, C.H.  1997.  Genome similarity implies that citrus-parasitic burrowing nematodes do not represent a unique species. Journal of Nematology 29,430-440.
  • Kaplan, D.T., Vanderspool, M.C.,  and Opperman, C.H.  1997.  Sequence tag site and host range assays  demonstrate that Radopholus similis and R. citrophilus are not reproductively isolated. Journal of Nematology 29,421-429
  • Dong, K., and Opperman, C.H.  1997. Genetic analysis of parasitism in Heterodera glycines.  Genetics146,1311-1318.
  • Kaplan, D.T., Vanderspool, M.C., Garrett, C., Chang, S., and Opperman, C.H.  1996. Molecular polymorphisms associated with host range in the highly conserved genomes of the burrowing nematodes, Radopholus spp.  Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 9, 32-38.
  • Opperman, C. H., Taylor, C. G., and Conkling, M. A.  1994.  Root-knot nematode directed expression of a plant root-specific gene.  Science 263, 221-223.


BS, Agronomy, University of Florida (1981)
Ph.D, Nematology, University of Florida (1985)