Scientists from the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri and the Beijing Genome Institute have teamed up to use next-generation sequencing to identify two genes — out of approximately 50,000 possibilities — that defend soybeans from damage caused by the root-knot nematode (RKN).

This pest causes millions of dollars in yield losses each year in the United States alone.

This is the first time the process has been used in soybean research. Using another genetic technique, the team is now working to identify the specific gene that prevents RKN from infecting the soybean. With this knowledge, resistant soybean varieties or cultivars can be bred for farmers.

Researchers believe this process also can be applied to other crops to map genes important for traits, such as yield and stress responses, said Henry Nguyen, director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology (NCSB), housed at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

The discovery was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was funded by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council.

A silent killer of profits

The root-knot nematode is a microscopic roundworm that can become a parasite on an enormous variety of crop species including the soybean, potato, sugar beet, rice, coconut palm, banana, pepper, tobacco, watermelon, tomato and peanut. It is one of the three most economically damaging plant parasites worldwide, causing an average worldwide yield loss of 5 percent, Nguyen said.