Wallaces Farmer

BASF debuts first SCN transgenic trait

Nemasphere is the first transgenic trait to help farmers manage SCN. It’s set to be available in 2028, pending regulatory approval.

Gil Gullickson, editor of Wallaces Farmer

June 11, 2024

4 Min Read
Young soybean plant
TRANSGENIC TRAIT: Nemasphere, the first transgenic trait for soybean cyst nematode, uses a novel Cry 14 protein to kill SCN. Gil Gullickson

In 2017, Mike McCarville planted soybeans with a transgenic trait BASF scientists were developing to manage soybean cyst nematode.

Research involves sorting through myriad trials and products, with the hope that a game-changer will surface every few years. “This was one of those few times in my career when I walked out in the field and within 5 seconds realized, ‘This is way better than anything I’ve ever seen,’” says McCarville, BASF trait development manager.

The field, near Eagle Grove, was typical of rich and productive north-central Iowa soils in which yield-robbing SCN also resided.

Late-season soybeans impacted by SCN typically are lighter in color and slightly shorter than those not stymied by SCN. But not this time. Soybeans with the SCN trait were 6 inches taller and dark green compared to the shorter and lighter-colored ones without the trait, he says.

“These soybeans [with and without the trait] had the exact same genetics,” he says. “It was obvious this was going to be way different.”

First transgenic SCN trait

This transgenic trait now has a name — Nemasphere. It’s the first transgenic trait to help farmers manage SCN. Nemasphere is now in its eighth year of advanced field testing, including more than 200 U.S. field trials. On average, BASF officials say Nemasphere boosts yield potential by 8%.

BASF plans to make soybean varieties containing the trait available in 2028, with a full-scale commercial launch to follow in 2029, pending regulatory approval.

courtesy of BASF - Mike McCarville, BASF trait development manager

The trait gives will give farmers another tool to battle SCN, which is estimated to cost U.S. soybean farmers $1.5 billion annually, BASF officials say.

Still, SCN is often an unknown pest among farmers, since it stealthily steals yields. Symptoms include short and/or stunted plants, or yellowed or chlorotic plants. However, symptoms don’t always occur, says Hector Lopez-Nicora, Ohio State University plant pathologist.

Farmers use several strategies to manage SCN, says Lopez-Nicora. Rotating to a non-host crop such as corn is one. Ditto for planting SCN-resistant varieties.

However, approximately 95% of SCN-resistant varieties use the same resistance source — PI 88788. Repeated use of the same resistance source has led to SCN resisting PI 88788 resistance in some cases, Lopez-Nicora says.

Alternative SCN resistance sources exist, such as Peking. However, breeding challenges have limited the release of high-yielding Peking varieties, McCarville says. 

BASF officials say the Nemasphere trait will give farmers another tool on top of these strategies to manage SCN.

Novel Cry protein

BASF was looking for a game-changer in the SCN management space akin to the impact Roundup Ready technology had when it debuted in soybeans in 1996, says Julia Daum, BASF senior program leader.

“It completely changed the way farmers approached weed control in their fields,” Daum says. “Today, almost all soybean fields contain some stack of traited weed control. We were thinking that if we could come up with a novel solution for SCN, it would be a game-changer for the farmer to get that yield back that the soybean cyst nematode took away from them.”

BASF scientists examined the use of Cry proteins to control SCN. These proteins have been used in corn traits, such as those that control European corn borer or corn rootworm. BASF scientists found a promising one for SCN in a novel Cry 14 protein. This protein that SCN ingests interferes with nutrient uptake in their intestines and kills them. “They are safe, causing no harm to humans or animals,” Daum says.

It was difficult. “We found lots and lots and lots of ways to fail,” she says. “In fact, we failed for years.”

Still, researchers kept plugging away, buoyed by findings such as those McCarville experienced in that north-central Iowa field in 2017.

The Nemasphere trait will be stacked with the Enlist E3 herbicide tolerance trait. Since it’s a single-locus trait, breeders will be able to incorporate it into high-yielding seed varieties across multiple maturity groups with no yield drag, BASF officials say.

Resistance management will use multiple modes of action that include native resistance, such as PI 88788 or Peking, stacked with the trait, says McCarville.

About the Author(s)

Gil Gullickson

editor of Wallaces Farmer, Farm Progress

Gil Gullickson grew up on a farm that he now owns near Langford, S.D., and graduated with an agronomy degree from South Dakota State University. Earlier in his career, he spent 13 years as a Farm Progress editor, covering Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Gullickson is a widely respected and decorated ag journalist, earning the Agricultural Communicators Network writing award for Writer of the Year three times, and winning Story of the Year four times. He is a past winner of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Food and Agriculture Organization Award for Food Security. He has served as president of both ACN and the North American Agricultural Journalists.

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