RALEIGH, N.C. - Oil from soybeans bred from a new line of germplasm could someday be a contender for olive oil's front-runner position as highest in heart-healthy levels of monounsaturated fats.

Agricultural Research Service scientists with the Soybean and Nitrogen Fixation Research Laboratory in Raleigh developed the germplasm - the starting point for cultivating new soybean lines - through traditional breeding methods. They were led by agronomist Joseph W. Burton.

The germplasm will be a useful genetic resource for breeding soybean varieties suitable for different growing regions.

Oil from beans from the germplasm line contains increased levels of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat stable enough for use in salad dressings or frying oils without treatment by the hardening process called hydrogenation. Such hardening is achieved by chemically adding hydrogen to a chain of oil molecules. The hydrogenation serves as a stabilizer to make oils suitable for use in solid products such as margarines, breakfast bars and baked goods. But it also creates less healthy trans fatty acids.

Oil from the germplasm line also has less than half the highly unstable polyunsaturated fatty acids (PFAs) of today's commercial soy oils. PFAs are liquid fats known to cause undesirable odors and to break down when oxidized by aging or the high heat of frying. The new line's low PFA level means that even without hydrogenation, its oils would be as stable as most hydrogenated oils, and yet not oxidize as quickly as other soybean oils.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Rosalie Marion Bliss is a writer for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

e-mail: grutz@primediabusiness.com