New UNL Class on Soybean Breeding for Disease Resistance

New UNL Class on Soybean Breeding for Disease Resistance

A new distance education class studying the effects of water molds on soybeans is being offered through UNL's Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. Breeding for Disease Resistance, a case study on Oomycete diseases in soybeans, is available as a self-paced graduate course for one credit.

Professor Don Lee and Instructor Leah Sandall
UNL Professor Don Lee and Lecturer Leah Sandall stand in the teaching garden on East Campus.

The course (AGRO 496/896) fits the needs of traditional graduate students specializing in plant breeding and genetics, employees in the seed industry who are earning a Plant Breeding and Genetics professional certificate, and as a Continuing Education Unit (CEU) for Certified Crop Advisers (CCA).

"This class has the potential to benefit learners in a number of ways," said Don Lee, professor of agronomy and plant breeding, who teaches the course. "First, the online environment uses a variety of media to help the learner work online. Second, they learn to apply both basic genetic ideas and the latest discoveries by soybean geneticists and pathologists to understand how products in the soybean seed marketplace are different. This difference can be important to farmer customers who have problems with Phytophothora disease."

"Finally, the learner can use the learning environment in PASSeL (Plant and Soil Science eLibrary) as a free learning resource, or they can enroll in a course and get credit for their learning accomplishments," Lee said. "These credits can apply to both their Certified Crop Advisor continuing education or to the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture's Professional Certificate in Plant Breeding. Both are important credentials for their profession."

Because this is a distance education course, it offers flexibility for professionals and students alike. While it follows the UNL academic calendar, the fact that it's a self-paced class allows professionals to take the class during the off-growing season. Graduate students like the course because they can finish the course earlier in the semester before homework, papers, and tests are due for other classes.

Oomycetes (commonly called water molds) are a group of several hundred plant pathogens (including Phytophthora sojae). According to Leah Sandall, instructional designer for the course, yield loss to Phytophthora root rot is ranked second behind soybean cyst nematodes.

"With certain soil and weather conditions, Phytophthora can be pretty devastating to a soybean field and to a farmer's pocketbook," Sandall said.

Wet fields provide an excellent environment for Oomycetes. The pathogen can infect seeds, seedlings, and plants during all stages of growth. Symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after heavy rains and are most common on soils that are poorly drained. Plants have brown discoloration, lose leaves, and wilt.

Key management steps to minimize the impact of Oomycetes include:

  • increasing seed treatment rates,
  • using the right genetics,
  • increasing drainage and
  • minimizing compaction.

This class focuses on using the right genetics.

Information learned in this soybean course can be applied to other plants that are susceptible to Oomycetes. Other high-profile plants susceptible to the pathogens are corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, and other vegetables.

For more details about the course, visit the Plant and Soil Science eLibrary at

Kathy Schindler
Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.