Scientists map the soybean genome and discover implications for the future of agriculture

Credit: Photo by Stephen Ausmus (USDA Agricultural Research Service). From "Mapping and Sequencing of Soybean Genome Paves the Way for Improved Soybean Crops".

by Allison Younkins

Soybeans: An insignificant plant, or the key to the future of agriculture?
What do a $30 billion dollar US industry and 1.1 million base pairs of DNA have in common?  They are both attributes of the soybean plant.  A tremendous group of researchers, including those at the University of Missouri, have completed a study that identified over 1 million base pairs of DNA in the soybean genome.  Funded by multiple organizations for over 15 years, this project may seem like an extensive amount of research for just one plant.  But the soybean is the second most profitable crop and it is used as a component of:

  • Human food
  • Livestock feed
  • Plastics
  • Some forms of biodiesel

Scientists at the University of Missouri and The U.S. Department of Agriculture predict that the soybean genome will allow researchers to increase soybean yield, resistance to drought, and resistance to disease.  And if you think soybeans don’t apply to you, just ask Henry Nguyen, director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.  He is currently working on an animal science project using the soybean genome to increase both protein and antioxidants in meat.

From the bench to the farm: How will the soybean genome impact agriculture?
Without experience mapping genomes, it might be difficult to see the implications of the soybean genome on our crops.  But the researchers have made it clear that it will have a direct impact.  The soybean genome is a key component to a researcher’s ability to link the plant’s physical traits to genes and to alleles, which are different versions of the same gene.  These genes could control any aspect of the soybean, but researchers are most excited about genes that control seed yield and disease resistance.  In the future, researchers will manipulate these genes to produce a desired physical trait.

What you need to know: How soybean research affects all of us
This example of soybean research is one of numerous projects in the field of agricultural science.  Agricultural science is one of the few fields that affects people from every socioeconomic status and people from every country.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are often too expensive for families with low income.  This affects the health of our nation’s children as well as their families.  By increasing yield and lowering losses to disease, the price of vegetables would decrease.  In a global perspective, agricultural science is an invaluable tool for the fight against world hunger.  If scientists can develop drought resistance plants by finding the appropriate genes, food production in developing nations would be increased tremendously.  It just goes to show that big things do come in small soybean shaped packages.

Looking for more information? Check out the resources I used for this blog:

MU Researchers Fight World Hunger by Mapping the Soybean Genome

Soybean Genome Sequenced: Foundational Research Will Help Improve Soybeans And Other Legumes

Mapping and Sequencing of Soybean Genome Paves the Way for Improved Soybean Crops

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