Begin Scouting for Sudden Death Syndrome in Soybeans Print
News Releases - Agribusiness
Written by Joy Venhorst   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 12:19

AMES, Iowa – In past years, sudden death syndrome (SDS) has appeared during the last week of July or the first week of August in Iowa. Therefore, researchers at Iowa State University (ISU) anticipate symptoms of SDS will begin appearing in the state with the next couple of weeks. Although researchers do not expect SDS to be as widespread or as severe as the 2010 growing season, there have been some counties within the state that have received higher-than-normal precipitation. Scientists expect the risk of SDS in these counties to be higher since disease development is favored by wet conditions.

Begin scouting for SDS soon
The first symptoms of the disease are usually found on more compacted and low areas of the field. First symptoms are seen on the leaves of infected plants as scattered, yellow spots between leaf veins. Large sections of leaf tissue between veins turn yellow as spots grow together. These yellow blotches soon turn brown, but the veins remain green. Eventually, the leaves die and drop, but the petioles remain on the stem. Infected plants are also easily pulled from the soil because the roots are rotted. When split lengthwise with a knife, the internal tissue of the main or tap root will be gray to reddish brown, not healthy white.
ISU researchers emphasize that, while there are no in-season management options for SDS, scouting is still important for several reasons. 

  • First, this is a good time to evaluate soybean varieties for resistance to SDS. Growing resistant varieties, or avoiding very susceptible varieties, is the most effective way to reduce losses to SDS.
  • Also, identifying fields or parts of fields with SDS can help with future management practices. These management tactics include reducing soil compaction since the disease has been associated with compacted soil; planting fields with a history of SDS towards the end of a planting schedule when soils may be warmer and drier; and testing for the presence of soybean cyst nematodes.
  • Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is usually, but not always, associated with SDS and may increase its severity, especially in varieties that are SCN-susceptible. Therefore, management practices to reduce SCN populations, including SCN-resistant variety selection and preventing the spread of soil from field to field, may delay onset and spread of SDS.

“Several Iowa State University pathologists and agronomists continue research to improve our understanding the biology of the fungus that causes SDS and develop improved management options for the disease," said Alison Robertson, ISU Extension plant pathologist. "The ISU soybean breeding program continues to develop and release germplasm with improved resistance to SDS that is available to all private soybean breeding companies. ISU scientists collaborate with scientists at other universities.”

Most of the SDS research at ISU is funded by soybean checkoff dollars from state, regional and national organizations, namely the Iowa Soybean Association, the North Central Soybean Research Program and the United Soybean Board.

ISU Research

Key advances from the last five years of research on SDS at Iowa State include:

  • Development and release of soybean breeding lines with improved resistance to SDS that can be used by seed companies to develop resistant varieties adapted to Iowa;
  • Discovery, identification and molecular characterization of a toxin produced by the SDS fungus that causes the disease and that the toxin needs to be exposed to light to cause the disease on the leaves;
  • Discovery that the fungus needs to colonize the central part (or vascular system) of the roots so the toxin can be moved up from the roots to the leaves in the cells that carry water up the plant;
  • Discovery that soybean seedlings are most vulnerable to root infection in the first few days after planting, and in cold soils the seedlings are vulnerable to infection for a longer period of time than when planting occurs in warmer soil;
  • Discovery that the SDS fungus can survive in corn residue, including corn kernels dropped in field, and this may be a way the fungus overwinters from season to season.


Several other ongoing projects include:

  • Sequencing of the entire genetic composition (genome) of the SDS pathogen, which will allow scientists to identify the genes involved in the ability of the fungus to cause disease on soybeans;
  • Identifying the mechanisms behind the interaction between the SCN and the SDS pathogen;
  • Identifying soybean genes involved in resistance to SDS using molecular approaches;
  • Continuing to screen soybean breeding populations adapted to Iowa for improved resistance to SDS;
  • Evaluating the impact of crop rotation, planting date and seed treatment for SDS management in Iowa.

Partially funded by the soybean checkoff.


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