July 15, 2024

60 years in the making: BASF unveils Nemasphere nematode resistance trait

Mike McCarville, trait development manager at BASF, details how soybean growers have been longing for a solution to protect their fields from SCN for decades — and with the introduction of Nemasphere, they are finally getting a tool to go on the offense against this invisible threat.

DURHAM, N.C. — There has not been a major trait launched to manage soybean cyst nematodes in over six decades.

Until now, that is.

BASF Agricultural Solutions has introduced the Nemasphere nematode resistance trait, the first and only biotechnology trait for SCN, the No. 1 yield-robbing pest in soybeans in the United States.

“People have been chasing this for years, and for 60 years, it’s the first time we’re going to have something really new,” said Mike McCarville, trait development manager at BASF.

It will be available for the 2028 planting season, pending regulatory approvals.

Nemasphere produces a novel Cry14 protein that is ingested by nematodes, interfering with nutrient uptake in their intestines and leading to the nematodes’ death.

“With native resistance, the plant is detecting an effector protein secreted by the nematode. It’s sealing off the feeding site, killing it,” McCarville said.

“I like to call SCN the world’s greatest couch potato because literally if you take the food away from the sofa they won’t move to find more food — they’ll just starve to death.

“With a Cry protein, they’re actually ingesting a toxin. So, it’s an entirely different mode of action.”

Julia Daum

BASF is the first company to develop a transgenic, or genetically modified, trait to control SCN.

“I think most big ag companies and a lot of small ag companies were trying to find a novel Cry protein that kills nematodes and get it into a soybean plant,” said Julia Daum, BASF senior program leader.

“And we found lots and lots and lots of ways to fail. And we failed for a very long time.”

But, in 2016, she and her team of agronomists, microbiologists, biochemists and molecular biologists found something — not just a tool to try and help solve the problem, but an actual solution for it.

“Over 20 years ago, we had a dream; we had a vision of a solution to a problem that growers didn’t even know they had,” said Bryan Perry, the U.S. head of seeds and traits for BASF Agricultural Solutions.

Bryan Perry

Of all the soybean varieties sold in the United States today, 98% come from four main breeding programs — and there are 160 soybean brands on the market today, Perry said.

“We’re excited to be introducing a fifth breeding program to the United States and to growers for the upcoming planting season,” he said.

Getting To Market

Jesse Gilsinger, BASF North American soybean breeding manager, grew up on a livestock and grain farm in Indiana.

“I’ve been in soybean breeding for about 20 years, and during that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different traits as a soybean breeder,” he said.

“I can say that out of all the soybean traits that I’ve gotten to work with as a breeder, this Nemasphere trait is certainly the one that I am definitely most excited about working with.”

The germplasm is the vehicle that gets the trait to the marketplace, Gilsinger explained.

“So, just like a farmer wants to have really good, reliable transportation to get their crop to the terminal, soybean breeders want to have really good, reliable germplasm to get a trait to market,” he said.

“We don’t want the wheels flying off of our germplasm one or two years before a trait launch. So, it’s really important to have really good germplasm.”

Jesse Gilsinger

BASF has been breeding soybeans for about 12 years, starting out in Champaign, Illinois, and recently expanding to Sabin, Minnesota.

“We’ve got four soybean breeding programs now that cover the entire geography of the Midwest, from Group 0s all the way to a mid-Group 4,” Gilsinger said.

“By BASF coming to the scene here, we’re bringing in some more options for farmers, and that’s a good thing.”

Harnessing a completely novel mode of action, Nemasphere will be stacked with the Enlist E3 herbicide tolerance trait and available in a full range of the top-performing and best-yielding soybean seed varieties.

“Now you think about this germplasm, the yield advantage of this germplasm, and then stacking that or getting the benefit from the Nemasphere trait that is coming in and you can see the potential for a really game-changing type of product for the farmers to grow in their fields,” Gilsinger said.

Neil Bentley

Nemasphere is already helping breeders unleash the full genetic gain potential of their diverse germplasm.

It is a single-locus trait, which enables breeders to incorporate Nemasphere into a full range of high-yielding seed varieties with no compromises to overall agronomic performance and access to use the Enlist weed control system.

“I am quite convinced that this trait will help enable the next step-change in U.S. soybean production,” Gilsinger said.

BASF is in its eighth year of advanced field testing of Nemasphere in North America, including more than 200 field trials in the United States. On average, Nemasphere boosts yield potential by 8%.

Giving Back

BASF is committed to giving back to farmers, Perry said.

“It’s great to be working at an innovation-led company,” he noted.

Perry is responsible for the business management of BASF’s soybean, cotton and canola branded seed businesses, as well as trait licensing across the United States.

The fifth generation to be involved with his family farming operation, he grew up on a farm in northwest Missouri and has over 26 years of experience in the agricultural industry through various sales, marketing and business management roles.

“There’s always a new problem that emerges,” he said. “And over my 26 years, I’ve seen things from weed resistance to disease, to insects, and you name it. There’s always something new that’s coming forward.”

That is why it is so important that BASF invests 11% of every dollar that a grower spends back into new research and development for seed, seed treatment, chemistry and digital technology, Perry said.

“There is an entire village of people at BASF that have really brought this technology to the marketplace,” said Neil Bentley, BASF vice president of market management. “It takes collaboration among people to really bring great technologies forward.”

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor