Purdue University researchers have identified two genes within the soybean genome that are highly resistant to a soilborne pathogen that causes Phytophthora root and stem rot, a disease that costs U.S. soybean growers more than $250 million annually in lost yield.

The discovery, made by a team of scientists led by Jianxin Ma and Teresa Hughes, could lead to the development of soybean cultivars better able to withstand the pathogen Phytophthora sojae.

The Purdue research was published online by Theoretical and Applied Genetics and is to appear in the journal's November print edition.

Naturally occurring Phytophthora sojae resistance exists in soybean germplasm. Most previous resistant genes, however, have lost their ability to fight off the pathogen, which has developed immunity to them. Together, the two newly identified genes appear stronger than most earlier genes and could remain viable for many more years, said Ma, a soybean geneticist in Purdue's Department of Agronomy.

"These two genes demonstrate resistance to all the predominant isolates of this pathogen found in Indiana and many other isolates that are virulent to previously identified resistance genes," he said. "If these two genes are effectively used in Indiana and other Midwest soybean crops, an annual net increase in soybean production would be anticipated."

Phytophthora sojaehas been a problem for Indiana soybean farmers since it was first found in the state in 1948. The pathogen thrives in wet, cool conditions and produces spores that move in water and onto soybean roots. Diseased roots form lesions that can move up the stem and kill the entire soybean plant. The pathogen also produces spores that can remain dormant in soil through the winter and become active when warm weather returns.

Even in normal crop years Phytophthora sojae is responsible for 8-15 percent crop loss nationwide.

Because the soybean plant's own genetic resistance to Phytophthora sojae has proven to be the best way to control the pathogen, the mapping of the soybean genome in recent years has improved the odds of finding other resistant genes.