SON 23, The early days of Nematology, the SCN Coalition and the future

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean check-off.

The Society of Nematology recently held their annual meeting (SON 23) in Columbus, Ohio, on the campus of The Ohio State University. Plant pathologists and nematologists from across the country gathered for a week to discuss current research and efforts being undertaken to address issues caused by the over 7,000 species of nematodes in the United States and around the world.

For over 5 decades, George Bird has studied nematodes; first as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University working as a student researcher in the summers, and for the last 50 years as a researcher, university professor and extension specialist at Michigan State University. Bird is also one of the founders of the SCN Coalition.

Soybean Cyst Nematode (SCN) has been recognized as an agronomic pest in the United States since 1954. “In the early years, SCN was very difficult to control and there were not many options,” said Bird.  Out of those challenges emerged the SCN Coalition. The first objective was the idea of a campaign called “Take the Test, Beat the Pest”. The objective was to make farmers aware of the potential presence of SCN in their fields.

This first SCN Coalition campaign was successful at raising awareness of the nematode pest, and farmers adopted planting resistant varieties. “It did not take long for the overuse of certain resistant varieties to lead to variety resistance among the nematodes,” said Bird. “The issue of SCN developing resistance to the resistance gene led to a second SCN Coalition. The new objective of the SCN Coalition is to manage resistance and encourage farmers to rotate the genetic source of resistance among varieties as well as identifying other potential issues in the field.”

The SCN Coalition is comprised of 28 states and 8 transnational corporations. The SCN Coalition has a marketing agency helping to get the message about SCN out to farmers and stakeholders. Because of the marketing arm, the discipline of nematology will sponsor the very first National Nematology Day on Oct. 2nd, 2023, in the United States.

Bird is excited about the future of nematology. “Thanks to the work of the marketing agency, some big things are coming,” said Bird. “National Nematology Day will help to raise awareness. Also, the SCN Coalition has developed a soon to be released hand-held nematode calculator for smartphones. The new calculator app will help to estimate SCN yield losses based on population densities and provide management recommendations. The SCN calculator app is expected to be released this fall.”

Nathan Schroeder first became interested in nematodes as a PhD Student in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin. “That got me very focused on plant parasitic nematodes and is where I first started working on Soybean Cyst Nematodes,” said Schroeder, now an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “From there I became more interested in the innerworkings and learning how nematodes could find the plant roots in the soil and get into the roots. I started investigating it further and that put me on my current research program that looks at applied near term solutions to control parasitic nematodes, as well as expanding those basic concepts into developing new “outside the box” control strategies.”

“One of the tools we use in our research is electron microscopy,” said Schroeder. “It’s not the typical microscope that was used in high school biology. Instead of using light, we use electron beams to get incredible detail and resolution down to the nanometer scale to be able to see individual cells and neurons and how the neurons connect. From that we can get a very detailed picture of how the nematode works. With that knowledge, we hope to learn how to control it while not harming other things that are in the soil.”

Seed treatment studies are also a part of the research Schroeder conducts. “Part of the applied research we do is to test seed treatments,” said Schroeder. “We test seed treatments that are in development and also those on the market to test the efficacy in different geographical regions. We are also going to be testing commercial soybean varieties looking at their resistance in the field to SCN.”    

All this research is funded in part by soybean check-off dollars.

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