Genome-wide association (GWAS) and epistatic (GWES) studies along with expression studies in soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] were leveraged to dissect the genetics of Sclerotinia stem rot (SSR) [caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (Lib.) de Bary], a significant fungal disease causing yield and quality losses. A large association panel of 466 diverse plant introduction accessions were phenotyped in multiple field and controlled environments to: (1) discover sources of resistance, (2) identify SNPs associated with resistance, (3) determine putative candidate genes to elucidate the mode of resistance. We report 58 significant main effect loci and 24 significant epistatic interactions associated with SSR resistance, with candidate genes involved in a wide range of processes including cell wall structure, hormone signaling, sugar allocation related to plant immunity, revealing the complex nature of SSR resistance. Putative candidate genes [for example, PHYTOALEXIN DEFFICIENT 4 (PAD4), ETHYLENE-INSENSITIVE 3-LIKE 1 (EIL3), ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR 1 (ERF1)] clustered into salicylic acid (SA), jasmonic acid (JA), ethylene (ET) pathways suggest the involvement of a complex hormonal network typically activated by both necrotrophic (ET/JA) and biotrophic (SA) pathogens supporting that S. sclerotiorum is a hemibiotrophic plant pathogen.
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