Tackling plant pests with genetic solutions is more fine-tuned than ever. The early days of inserting a protein into a plant to take care of a problem are still with us, but now plant genetics experts are tackling pests in new ways.

Earlier this year an international team of researchers looked at plant defense tools in one common genetic model — Arabidopsis, which isa mustard-like plant whose genome code scientists know well. They identified a gene called AtPAD4 that is responsible for the expression of a number of genes
for defense response in the plant.

The research team expressed a gene encoding AtPAD4 in soybean roots of composite plants to test the ability of the gene to stop nematode development.

The results were promising, with the gene cutting the presence of mature soybean cyst nematodes
by 68%. The impact on root knot nematodes was even greater, at a 77% reduction.

The work is young, but does show that this gene could be bred into soybeans to offer a new way to resist two strains of nematodes.

The AtPAD4 gene is involved with the plant’s own built-in defense mechanism. This method of genetic modification could be a more potent defense against key pests. Essentially, as the research report says, “this work provides a basis for unraveling the potential role of defense-signaling genes in quantitative disease resistance in this major crop species.”

For a pest that can cost the soybean industry more than $1 billion a year in losses, a dependable genetic solution will be welcome. Researchers on this project were with USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md.; the Genetics Division, National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology, Rural Development Administration, South Korea; and the Plant Protection Department, Faculty of Agriculture, Fayoum University, Fayoum, Egypt.