The Fight Against the Sudden Death Syndrome Nightmare

Syngenta scientists use advanced analytics to help soybean growers sleep better.
Healthy soybean pods are key to a productive harvest.
Healthy soybean pods are key to a productive harvest.
A soybean grower’s worst nightmare is to wake up to a field of crinkled soybean leaves and chlorotic mottling. If a closer examination reveals a rotted root system with tell-tale light-blue patches on the taproot, Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) has likely struck.

This soilborne fungal disease is the second leading cause of U.S. soybean yield loss, marching ever closer to taking the top spot from soybean cyst nematode (SCN). While SDS favors a cold, wet climate, it can strike anywhere in North America. Each year, SDS destroys an estimated 25 million bushels of soybeans1, which represents a loss of nearly $245 million for U.S. soybean growers.2 An infection in a soybean crop can be devastating for individual farmers. Because outbreaks are so unpredictable, even farmers not directly affected by SDS live with the anxiety that their luck might run out during the next growing season.

Because of Syngenta research, farmers now have powerful options to protect against such losses.

Analytics Over Guesswork

Syngenta NK® Soybeans and Golden Harvest® Soybeans lead the industry when it comes to SDS resistance. Across all relative maturities, Syngenta brand soybean varieties consistently rate better than offerings from Pioneer and Asgrow when it comes to SDS genetic resistance scores.3

That success is no accident. It’s the product of hard-working, innovative Syngenta scientists who first recognized the critical importance of addressing SDS.

A Syngenta legacy company started work on SDS phenotyping in 1995 in St. Joseph, Illinois. But the effort kicked into high gear in 2010, when Syngenta formed an SDS project team to develop a solution. The team’s mission was to find the genetic mechanism behind SDS tolerance and develop an SDS resistance trait. Its secret weapon was the award-winning Y.E.S. Yield Engineering System™.

A Tough Mission

Advanced analytics help @SyngentaUS scientists find solutions to fight #soybean sudden death syndrome.

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As missions go, this one was tough. No single gene had been identified as responsible for SDS resistance, and past attempts to unravel this mystery had run into a number of roadblocks. For example, greenhouse results are rarely consistent with field results when it comes to SDS. Even with field results, maturity variation often confounds numbers.

But the Syngenta SDS project team was undeterred, and its persistence paid off in 2012 with the discovery of an SDS-tolerant genetic mechanism. Through the use of molecular markers, Syngenta breeders could identify SDS-tolerant soybean lines and use the genotypic information when making breeding selections.

The proprietary Y.E.S. Breeding Project Lead Tool made it possible to develop a commercial solution in record time. Instead of running trial after trial, Syngenta breeding tools virtually evaluated thousands upon thousands of possible combinations using powerful data analytics. This proved to be a huge timesaver, as breeders didn’t waste effort on old-fashioned guesswork. Instead, breeders could eliminate from trials any crosses that lacked a realistic chance of success.

This was a major breakthrough and tribute to the collaborative spirit at Syngenta, bringing breeders, molecular biologists, pathologists, product evaluators, the trialing group and statisticians together to crack the code. As a result, Syngenta is able to offer best-in-class germplasm for fighting SDS.

Added Protection

The fight against SDS doesn’t end there. In addition to SDS resistant genetics, Syngenta offers seed treatments for a well-rounded package to defend against the disease.

Clariva® Complete Beans seed treatment, a combination of separately registered products, offers season-long protection against SCN and can reduce damage from SCN-related diseases, such as SDS. To provide direct activity on SDS, Mertect® 340-F fungicide can be added to Clariva Complete Beans. The combination of these products creates a powerful double mode of action to help manage the disease.

Syngenta scientists are committed to making SDS a thing of the past and will continue to develop a pipeline with even more advanced solutions. In the meantime, soybean growers can sleep more soundly knowing that better science and better germplasm have reduced the chances of an SDS nightmare ruining their next season.

1 United Soybean Board, “Wanted for Yield Robbery: Sudden Death Syndrome.”
2 United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.
3 According to independent SDS rating scores from Syngenta, Pioneer and Monsanto. Data from 2014 trials.


About the Author
Joseph Byrum is senior R&D and strategic marketing executive in life sciences—global product development, innovation and delivery at Syngenta. He writes on agricultural innovation. Connect with him on Twitter @ByrumJoseph.