A tiny pest can cause huge losses to soybean farmers. Several top soybean-producing states in the U.S. are in the Upper Midwest. In these states, an insect (the soybean aphid) is a damaging pest. Each year, soybean aphids cause billions of dollars in crop losses. In a recent study, researchers have taken a big step toward identifying new soybean genes associated with aphid resistance. "Discovering new resistance genes will help develop soybean varieties with more robust aphid resistance," says lead author Dr. Aaron Lorenz. "There are very few commercially-available varieties of soybean with aphid resistance genes. Newly-identified genes can serve as backup sources of resistance if the ones currently used are no longer useful." Dr. Lorenz is an agronomist and plant geneticist at the University of Minnesota. Currently, insecticides are used to control aphid populations to reduce damage. But aphid populations that are resistant to widely-used insecticides have been found. Environmental issues with insecticide use can also be a concern. These issues may limit insecticide use in the future. Using soybean varieties that are naturally resistant to aphids is an alternative to using insecticides. "But the soybean aphid is a genetically diverse species. It is capable of quickly overcoming plant resistance," says Dr. Lorenz. "So, we need to identify new sources of soybean aphid resistance." To find previously unknown aphid resistance genes, researchers used already-published research. Thousands of varieties of soybean have been tested for aphid resistance. Genetic information also exists for many of these soybean varieties. Dr. Lorenz and colleagues combined data on existing aphid resistance and genetics. "Our goal was to find which parts of the soybean genome contain genes related to aphid resistance," says Dr. Lorenz.
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