Nematology is the study of nematodes, also known as roundworms, which first began in the nineteenth century. Like many fields of study, nematology began with ancient recordings and descriptions lacked elements of modern science. The oldest record of a nematode occurs in the Pentateuch in the fourth book of Moses known as Numbers. The reference, although not plainly stating roundworms or nematodes, is thought to refer to Dracunculus medinensis, a species that is native to the area near the Red Sea.

Many ancient scholars also recorded observations of nematodes, including Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen, all of whom described humans, birds, and large mammals infected with the parasite. The first description of a free-living nematode came from Borellus, who called it a “vinegar eel.” Other nematologists described free-living nematodes including Tyson, who described the rough anatomy of an Ascaris lumbricoides specimen using an early microscope, and Needham, who discovered a parasitic nematode in a crushed wheat plant.

Between 1750 and the 1900’s, nematologists focused the taxonomy and descriptions of plant based and animal based nematodes. During this time, many discoveries and advancements were made, but the scientific aspect of nematology did not fully begin until the 20th century. The first field station designed for nematology was built in 1918 in the U.S. Post Office of Salt Lake City, Utah. Nathan Cobb published his lab manual, called Estimating the Nema Population of Soil, and a book called Contributions to a Science of Nematology, in that same year, both of which are still considered important to nematology today.

Although there were a few state-run research stations dedicated to nematology and its relation to agricultural, there are few records to show its importance. The first record describes the golden nematode and how it was discovered in potato fields on Long Island, which led U.S. quarantine officials to the potato fields in Europe, which had been devastated by the parasites. The second most important record occurred after this, when the nematicides D-D and EDB were introduced to combat the worms. The American government also funded the research for nematode-resistant crop cultivars. All of these events caused a shift from taxonomic based studies to active research, and helped to expand the specialization of the studies from plant pathology to nematology.

Image Caption: Caenorhabditis elegans, adult hermaphrodite. Credit: Bob Goldstein/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)