With further work, they found that nearly every soybean variety that is known to be SCN resistant has more than one set of these genes. The Peking variety has three copies of this group, and the Fayette variety has 10. The susceptible variety, Williams, has only one copy.

The Wisconsin researchers used a technique called Fiber-FISH to show that the genes make soybeans nematode-resistant. It allowed them to look into the DNA molecule and count the number of genes in a row. They also found that levels of expression of these genes were higher where there were more copies of the genes.

They artificially increased the expression rates of three of the genes together on soybean roots and were able to replicate the resistance effect. They were not able to replicate the effect using any of the genes on its own.

The results are interesting from a scientific point of view because having several genes next to each other that control the same trait is unusual in multicellular organisms. So is having an effect that is clearly due to multiple repeats of a stretch of DNA.

“We think we’ve found a new mechanism for plant resistance,” Hudson said. “It’s not a question of the presence versus the absence of a resistance gene, it’s a question of the level of expression of these genes.”

The practical implication of this study is that it suggests a way to engineer artificial resistance that is stronger than natural resistance. The researchers have received a grant from the United Soybean Board to pursue this.

The Soybean Disease Biotech Research Center at the U of I provided funding for this project.

The research is described in detail in the following article:

David E. Cook, Tong Geon Lee, Xiaoli Guo, Sara Melito, Kai Wang, Adam Bayless, Jianping Wang,Teresa J. Hughes, David K. Willis, Thomas Clemente, Brian W. Diers, Jiming Jiang, Matthew E. Hudson, and Andrew F. Bent. “Copy Number Variation of Multiple Genes at Rhg1 Mediates Nematode Resistance in Soybean.” Published online in Science Express, October 11, 2012.