Heterorhabditis, Steinernema and their bacterial symbionts - Lethal pathogens of insects

Ann M. Burnell, S. Patricia Stock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus citations


The entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) Heterorhabditis and Steinernema together with their symbiont bacteria Photorhabdus and Xenorhabdus, respectively, are obligate and lethal parasites of insects. EPN can provide effective biological control of some important lepidopteran, dipteran and coleopteran pests of commercial crops and they are amenable to large-scale culture in liquid fermentors. They are unique among rhabditids in having a symbiotic relationship with an enteric bacterium species. The bacterial symbiont is required to kill the insect host and to digest the host tissues, thereby providing suitable nutrient conditions for nematode growth and development. This review describes the general biology of EPN and their symbionts and gives an overview of studies to date on EPN biodiversity, biogeography and phylogeny. The impetus for research in EPN and their symbionts has come about because of their biological control potential, with much of the focus in EPN research having been on applied aspects relating to pest control. However EPN and their symbionts are increasingly being viewed as exciting subjects for basic research in the areas of ecology, biodiversity, evolution, biochemistry, symbiosis and molecular genetics. Much progress has been made over the past 20 years in our understanding of the basic biology and genetics of EPN and their symbionts. We are now entering a new phase in which the tools of molecular genetics are being increasingly used to address a range of biological questions in EPN research. The knowledge gained from this endeavour should ensure that EPN will become even more effective biopesticides and should also ensure that EPN and their symbionts gain prominence as unique and intrinsically interesting biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


  • Biogeography
  • Entomopathogenic nematode
  • Habitat preference
  • Photorhabdus
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis
  • Xenorhabdus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Heterorhabditis, Steinernema and their bacterial symbionts - Lethal pathogens of insects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this