Systems Approach Holds Hope for Soybean Cyst Nematode Control
If there is a Holy Grail in soybean pest control, a likely contender is soybean cyst nematode (SCN) control. Generally regarded as the most important soybean pathogen, SCN can be found in 14 countries and most soybean production areas of the U.S. For more than two decades, planting resistant varieties has been the main protection against the pest. Today that is changing as new research tools come on line, new products are introduced and, most of all, the pest evolves. Perhaps the most important element in current efforts is the systems approach being used within companies, public research institutions and across the industry.
Bruce Schnicker "What hasn't changed is always thinking about getting a better product faster into the grower’s hands," said Bruce Schnicker, global plant health lead for breeding, Monsanto. "The new opportunity is using all tools available to deliver those solutions. One of the great things for me as a plant breeder is to collaborate with scientists in other fields, including chemists on seed treatments, molecular scientists, as well as internal pathologists and researchers from public institutions as well."
Joseph Byrum, global head of soybean seed R&D, Syngenta, noted that while the primary approach in seeds is selection for tolerance in germplasm, there is significant emphasis on molecular breeding to address resistant traits across the germplasm. Like Schnicker, Byrum celebrates the multiple assets available at his company to find SCN solutions, from germplasm to seed care to biotech.
The first draft of the SCN gene sequence was completed by Monsanto and its since acquired partner Divergence in 2008. The knowledge is paying off, but slowly, suggested Schnicker.
"Learning how the pest interacts with the soybean plant, how it derives nutrients and the genes involved in that provide potential resistance targets going forward," he said. "The challenge is that it takes a lot of scientists to marshal the information and drive product development. Part of the value of sequencing is it opens up all these opportunities from a breeding perspective to identify traits that may already exist in the breeding population to give us another avenue to provide control."
Dan Tomso, site manager, Bayer CropScience Innovation Center, described biotech advances in SCN control as "super exciting." Tomso joined Bayer as part of its acquisition of the biotech firm Athenix and its patented gene portfolio that includes nematicidal genes. Development with the bacterial genomics-based program has been a long process, but results are promising.