The National Science Foundation (NSF) – National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Plant-Biotic Interactions Program has jointly funded an award to researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) and the University of Georgia (UGA) to help combat a devastating soybean pathogen, soybean cyst nematode (SCN).
University of Missouri’s (MU) Lesa Beamer, professor in biochemistry, and University of Georgia (UGA), researcher Melissa Mitchum, professor of plant nematology at UGA, will co-direct the 4-year award, which totals $1.2 million.
“I think the funding agencies really liked the collaborative nature of this project,” said Beamer. “It’s been very exciting for me to do research that addresses a real-world problem.”
Beamer and Mitchum started collaborating on the project several years ago, to try to understand biochemical basis of soybean resistance to SCN. The use of resistant soybean cultivars is the most effective way to manage SCN infestations in the field. In an interdisciplinary effort, researchers from MU Biochemistry, including Beamer who specializes in structural biology, were able to show how the variants identified by Mitchum, who has done studies identifying amino acid variants that were associated with the resistance to SCN in the past, affect function of the soybean enzyme.
“SCN adaptation on the major source of resistance found in more than 95% of commercial soybeans has become a widespread problem,” said Mitchum. “I’m excited by the interdisciplinary nature of this project and the opportunity we have to translate a discovery into a solution to help growers fight back.”
The current award will follow up on these initial results and aims to further explore the biochemistry and 3D structure of the soybean enzyme and genetic variants. In parallel, Mitchum will study the metabolic basis of resistance and effects on plant growth. Together, these researchers hope to identify novel ways to combat SCN infestations in soybeans.