A. J. Peltier, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin - Madison; 1630 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706;
R. D. Hatfield, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, 1925 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706; and
C. R. Grau, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin - Madison; 1630 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706
Sclerotinia stem rot, caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, is an economically important disease of soybean (Glycine max) in the north-central United States and other temperate regions throughout the world. The occurrence and severity of Sclerotinia stem rot in the field is highly dependent upon prevailing environmental conditions, which can prove problematic when evaluating soybean accessions for resistance. The identification of an environmentally stable plant trait associated with resistance to S. sclerotiorum could be used to indirectly screen for resistance and would prove useful in the identification and development of resistant germplasm. Observations of the soybean--S. sclerotiorum interaction suggest a role for preformed stem lignin content in disease resistance. Although S. sclerotiorum produces numerous enzymes that degrade plant cell wall components, no lignin-degrading enzymes have been reported. Despite a hypothesized direct relationship between preformed lignin content and disease resistance, previous studies on soybean have correlated lignin content to nutritional value and not to disease resistance. We hypothesized that plants with low stem lignin are more susceptible and exhibit greater Sclerotinia stem rot severity than plants with high lignin concentrations. Six soybean accessions that varied in response to S. sclerotiorum were selected for study in a series of field experiments. Soybean stems were sampled at reproductive developmental stages that correspond to specific events in both soybean plant development and the Sclerotinia stem rot disease cycle. The lignin concentration of stem component samples was quantified. Soybean accessions expressed statistically different disease phenotypes in both 2004 and 2006. Lignin concentrations differed among accessions, growth stages, and plant parts. Results were contrary to our hypothesis, with positively ranked correlations observed between accession Sclerotinia stem rot severity and lignin concentration for all nodes and internodes assayed. For the R3 growth stage, lignin concentration of the internode between the fourth and fifth trifoliate leaves correlated best with disease severity data from each year (P = 0.005). These results indicate that resistance is related to low stem lignin concentration and that soybean stem lignin concentration can be used as a biological marker to select for resistance to S. sclerotiorum.