The United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff invested in research that led to scientists mapping the soybean genome. Once mapped, the soybean genome opened the doors for countless other research projects to expand on the initial project and learn more about soybeans than in the past.

 A recent National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Scott Jackson, Purdue University, will study genetic diversity of soybeans. Genetic diversity refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of the species, in this case a soybean plant. Jackson says a lack of genetic diversity represents one of the main challenges for soybeans, and that makes finding new traits that could lead to genetic improvement difficult. But this work could continue to help find ways to genetically improve soybeans.

“This research builds directly on the soybean genome work that the soybean checkoff helped fund,” says Jackson. “If it weren’t for the soybean genome, we wouldn’t be able to discover and define genetic variability, which describes the tendency of genetic characteristics to vary.”  

 The soybean checkoff funded the early work on the soybean genome, which established the foundation for mapping the genome and allowed the U.S. Department of Energy to finalize the research, says Rick Stern, USB Production Research program chair and a soybean farmer from Cream Ridge, N.J.  

“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as developments from the soybean genome,” says Stern.

Could be additional findings

“The soybean industry doesn’t yet know what each individual gene does, so there could be additional findings for pest or disease resistance to come from the original soybean genome research.”

Jackson’s project represents one of the projects evolving from the soybean genome work, and will be backed by an $8.9 million NSF grant. The project will develop a set of tools that will allow investigators to utilize genetic diversity in soybeans. The research will also include work with other species closely related to soybeans that have many of the same genetic components but grow in drier climates. This could help further research on drought tolerance that the soybean checkoff and other institutions are already studying.

“The full value of this project won’t be seen in one to five years,” says Jackson. “This research builds long-term value by allowing soybean researchers to find genes that could improve yield protection, pest and disease resistance and water-use efficiency.”

Jackson’s work on genetic diversity continues the checkoff’s trend of leveraging research dollars. USB works with state and regional checkoff boards to fund research that has implications both nationally and in specific regions of the country. In addition, the soybean checkoff constantly works with universities to leverage research dollars, to get the most bang for soybean farmers’ buck.

“Many seed companies focus the majority of their research on yield improvement,” says Stern. “While USB also works on protecting yield, we can diversify into research on soybean composition and other areas that help the entire soybean industry.”

 USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.