Although considerable research money has been spent to combat a wide range of soybean diseases, there has not been any systematic effort over the years to preserve and collect samples of the various pathogens that cause those diseases. As researchers retire or move on to other projects, there is a real danger of losing isolates of the pathogens that could be used to help control major soybean diseases ranging from cyst nematode to sudden death syndrome.

"Assembling an extensive and genetically diverse collection of soybean pathogens in one location would provide an invaluable resource for identifying new genes for resistance in soybeans and understanding the genetics of the pathogens that cause major soybean diseases," said Glen Hartman, USDA plant pathologist at the University of Illinois. "In recent years, it has become abundantly clear that such a collection is essential if we are to protect the long-term productivity of the soybean in the U.S."

To meet this need, Hartman and other collaborators across the country have recently begun assembling just such a collection at the U of I's National Soybean Research Laboratory. The National Soybean Pathogen Center will focus on collecting, maintaining, and studying a wide range of bacterial, fungal, nematode, and viral pathogens.

Initial support for the project came from the United Soybean Board, the American Seed Trade Association, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Recent funding includes a grant from the USDA-IFASF Program.

"The main function of the center is to provide soybean pathogens to researchers who are working on host resistance as a means of reducing yield losses caused by disease," Hartman said. "The center also will widely disseminate information about the accessions in the collection and present workshops so that researchers can work more efficiently with the pathogens."

The Center is committed to maintaining the soybean pathogens in a viable and stable state, while maintaining all original properties. The collection will serve as a reference collection for researchers in both the public and private sectors.

"We will describe and document the variations in the soybean pathogens from our collection," Hartman said. "All that information will be made readily available to other interested researchers. We also will assist other scientists in identifying soybean pathogens and studying variations among the samples in the collection as they relate to understanding pathogen biology and the interactions with the hosts."

Hartman notes that the collection will include living pathogens, representing the range of genetic diversity within bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and viruses that are considered important for improving soybean germplasm. Other programs at the center will focus on training in germplasm screening and developing research strategies for better understanding pathogen diversity.

"An accession number will be allocated to each incoming strain," he said. "Those that are further purified or selected will be assigned a new accession number. A top priority will be to maintain the identity and viability of the strains in the collection. Some pathogens will be maintained as frozen stock, while others may be kept on living plant material."

Accessions in the collection will be distributed through an online catalogue without any charge. The collection will housed at the National Soybean Research Center (NSRC) at the U of I. Other cooperators on the project will maintain duplicate collections at several different locations.

He further points out that the location of the center at the NSRC provides ready access to the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection at the U of I.

"This unique collection contains more than 16,000 soybean accessions and more than 1,000 accessions of the progenitor of the soybean," Hartman said. "The germplasm collection also has about 1,000 accessions of the wild perennial Glycine species. We expect to have strong collaboration between the curator of the germplasm collection and the scientists working with the pathogen collection, all of which should prove of great benefit for soybean producers as new resistant soybean varieties are developed and released."