Iowa Growers Support New ISU Research on Soybean Rust

November 11th, 2004

With financial commitment from the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board, Iowa State University will fund new research on soybean rust, a potentially devastating fungal disease that was found for the first time in North America this week.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that soybean rust had been discovered on soybean plants in Louisiana. The disease, which can substantially reduce soybean yields, has affected crops in every continent where soybeans are grown.

"For the past two years, Iowa State has been a national leader in extension and educational efforts to prepare soybean growers for the arrival of soybean rust. With the support of Iowa soybean growers, we'll be well-positioned to lead the search for research solutions to soybean rust," said Catherine Woteki, dean of the College of Agriculture.

"Iowa is the nation's leading soybean-growing state with more than 338 million bushels harvested last year and a $2.6 billion economic impact," said Alan Karkosh, chairman of the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board and a grower from Hudson, Iowa. "Now that soybean rust has been confirmed in the United States, we need to focus on research areas that will help soybean growers address the problem."

The Iowa Soybean Promotion Board is a volunteer board of 17 Iowa soybean farmers elected by soybean producers to maximize the profitability of Iowa soybean producers by investing and administering checkoff funds in research, market development and educational activities.

Earlier this year, representatives of Iowa State and the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board began developing plans for a new research initiative on the disease.

As part of the new effort, Iowa State will create two new faculty positions in the colleges of agriculture and liberal arts and sciences, as well as a postdoctoral scientist position. The Iowa Soybean Promotion Board will provide $500,000 over three years to help fund salaries of the new faculty. After three years, the university will fully fund the positions. Iowa State will fund costs involved in starting up the new research programs, including setting up laboratories. ISU's Plant Sciences Institute will fund the postdoctoral scientist position and other research costs.

Searches for the new positions will begin soon. The soybean organization also has pledged additional support for research when the faculty members are hired.

"The new faculty positions will provide essential links from fundamental research on the molecular level to the more applied research with practical applications," said David Wright, director of production technology for the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board.

The new faculty members and postdoctoral scientist will conduct studies on fungal biology of soybean diseases and molecular-level research on how plants respond to attacks by pathogens. The primary emphasis will be on soybean rust. They also will work closely with ISU agronomists on identifying potential new sources of disease resistance in soybean.

ISU research currently underway on soybean rust includes:

- X.B. Yang, a professor of plant pathology, has studied soybean rust since 1989 - one of only a handful of scientists in the nation who has conducted research on the disease. The Iowa Soybean Promotion Board currently funds Yang's research on using environmental models to assess the movement of the disease.

- A research initiative underway in the Plant Sciences Institute addresses soybean rust at the molecular level. Plant pathology faculty Thomas Baum and Steve Whitham are embarking on research to analyze the molecular host-pathogen interactions of soybean rust. Knowledge gained from the work may lead to rust-resistant soybean cultivars or new management strategies to control the disease. Because U.S. quarantine regulations prohibit research with infected tissue at Iowa State, Baum and Whitham will conduct some of their experiments in South America. They have obtained permission to transport RNA from infected soybean tissue to ISU and have hired a postdoctoral researcher who will start in January.

The Iowa Soybean Rust Team has been preparing for the arrival of the new disease for the past two years. The team has trained approximately 400 Iowa crop professionals as "first detectors" to identify soybean rust. This winter, 12 additional meetings in ISU's Crop Advantage Series are planned to educate soybean producers about the disease. The team is encouraging Iowa's growers to attend the meetings. Members represent Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. More information about the team and soybean rust is available on the Web, http://www.soybeanrust.info.

Contacts: 

Pam Molitor, Iowa Soybean Association, Director of Communications, 800-383-1423
Brian Meyer, Iowa State University Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-5616, bmeyer@iastate.edu

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