Begin Scouting for Sudden Death Syndrome in Soybean

July 21, 2011
ICM News

Alison Robertson, Daren Mueller, Leonor Leandro, Greg Tylka and XB Yang, Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology

In past years, sudden death syndrome (SDS) has appeared during the last week of July or the first week of August in Iowa. Therefore we anticipate symptoms of SDS will begin appearing in the state within the next couple of weeks.  Although we do not expect SDS to be as widespread or as severe as the 2010 growing season, there have been some Iowa counties that have received higher-than-normal precipitation. We expect the risk of SDS in these counties to be higher since disease development is favored by wet conditions. 

Begin scouting for SDS soon 

The first symptoms of the disease are usually found on more compacted and low areas of the field. First symptoms are seen on the leaves of infected plants as scattered, yellow spots between leaf veins (Figure 1). Large sections of leaf tissue between veins turn yellow as spots grow together. These yellow blotches soon turn brown, but the veins remain green (Figure 2). Eventually the leaves die and drop, but the petioles remain on the stem. Infected plants are also easily pulled from the soil because the roots are rotted. When split lengthwise with a knife, the internal tissue of the main or tap root will be gray to reddish brown, not healthy white (Figure 3).

There are no in-season management options for SDS, but scouting is still important for several reasons.

  •  First, this is a good time to evaluate soybean varieties for resistance to SDS. Growing resistant varieties, or avoiding very susceptible varieties, is the most effective way to reduce losses to SDS.
  • Also, identifying fields or parts of fields with SDS can help with future management practices. These management tactics include reducing soil compaction since the disease has been associated with compacted soil; planting fields with a history of SDS towards the end of a planting schedule when soils may be warmer and drier; and testing for the presence of soybean cyst nematodes.
  • Soybean cyst nematode is usually, but not always, associated with SDS and may increase its severity, especially in varieties that are SCN-susceptible. Therefore, management practices to reduce SCN populations, including SCN-resistant variety selection and preventing the spread of soil from field to field, may delay onset and spread of SDS.

Plant pathologists and agronomists continue research to improve our understanding of the biology of the fungus that causes SDS and develop improved management options for the disease. The Iowa State University (ISU) soybean breeding program continues to develop and release germplasm with improved resistance to SDS that is available to all private soybean breeding companies. These Iowa State scientists collaborate with scientists at other universities.  Most of the SDS research at Iowa State is funded by soybean checkoff dollars from state, regional and national organizations, namely the Iowa Soybean Association, the North Central Soybean Research Program and the United Soybean Board.

ISU Research

Key research advances from the last five years of research on SDS at Iowa State include:

  • Development and release of soybean breeding lines with improved resistance to SDS that can be used by seed companies to develop resistant varieties adapted to Iowa
  • Discovery, identification and molecular characterization of a toxin produced by the SDS fungus that causes the disease and that the toxin needs to be exposed to light to cause the disease on the leaves
  • Discovery that the fungus needs to colonize the central part (or vascular system) of the roots so that the toxin can be moved up from the roots to the leaves in the cells that carry water up the plant
  • Discovery that soybean seedlings are most vulnerable to root infection in the first few days after planting, and that in cold soils the seedlings are vulnerable to infection for a longer period of time than when planting occurs in warmer soil
  • Discovery that the SDS fungus can survive in corn residue, including corn kernels dropped in field, and this may be a way the fungus overwinters from season to season

Several other ongoing projects include:

  • Sequencing of the entire genetic composition (genome) of the SDS pathogen, which will allow us to identify the genes involved in the ability of the fungus to cause disease on soybean
  • Identifying the mechanisms behind the interaction between the SCN and the SDS pathogen
  • Identifying soybean genes involved in resistance to SDS using molecular approaches
  • Continuing to screen soybean breeding populations adapted to Iowa for improved resistance to SDS
  • Evaluating the impact of crop rotation, planting date and seed treatment for SDS management in Iowa

Figure 1.  Early foliar symptoms of SDS.


Figure 2.  Advanced foliar symptoms of SDS


Figure 3.  Gray discoloration of the taproot (bottom) associated with SDS compared to a healthy soybean tap root (top).  


Alison Robertson is an associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology with extension and research responsibilities; contact at or phone 515-294-6708. Daren Mueller is an extension specialist with responsibilities in the Corn and Soybean Initiative and ISU's IPM program. Mueller can be reached at 515- 460-8000 or by email at Leonor Leandro is an assistant professor of plant pathology with research and teaching responsibilities. Leandro may be reached at (515) 294-8855 or by email at Greg Tylka is a professor of plant pathology with extension and research responsibilities in management of plant-parasitic nematodes. XB Yang is a professor of plant pathology with research and extension responsibilities in soybean diseases. Yang can be reached at (515) 294-8826 or by emailing

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on July 21, 2011. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.


Alison Robertson Professor of Plant Pathology and Microbiology

Dr. Alison Robertson is a professor of plant pathology and microbiology. She provides extension education on the diagnosis and management of corn and soybean diseases. Her research interests include Pythium seedling disease of corn and soybean and Goss's wilt. Dr. Robertson received her bach...

Daren Mueller Associate Professor

Daren Mueller is an associate professor and extension plant pathologist at Iowa State University. He is also the coordinator of the Iowa State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Daren received his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996, and his master's degree a...

Greg Tylka Morrill Professor

Dr. Greg Tylka is a Morrill Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University with extension and research responsibilities for management of plant-parasitic nematodes. The focus of Dr. Tylka's research program at Iowa State University is primarily the soybea...