The mapping of the soybean genome, an effort that was supported financially by the soy checkoff, has accelerated the breeding of soybeans that will yield better, contain higher levels of protein and overcome a multitude of pests, diseases and environmental stresses.

This genetic blueprint of the soybean has fast-tracked these five United Soybean Board research projects that could create better soy products for end-users:

Generation study — This retrospective look at changes in the soybean genome is giving researchers at Iowa State University clues into what’s been responsible for continued yield improvement. Crossing two successful genotypes together creates varieties that are better than either of the parents.

“Over the 90 years that breeders have been developing improved soybean varieties, yield has increased approximately 0.33 bushel per acre, per year,” says Randy Shoemaker, Ph.D., who leads the project. “Tracking specific regions of the genome can carry over to any trait of interest, including protein, oil, iron efficiency and nutrient utilization.”

Resequencing — University of Missouri researchers are sequencing important soybean genotypes to understand how they differ from Williams 82, the first soybean genome sequenced.  As data is generated from many soybean varieties and genotypes, it will be easier to determine which genes control which traits, which is a helpful tool for plant breeders. This could help with plant development, disease resistance and seed quality. This project is jointly funded by USB, Bayer, Dow Agrosciences and Monsanto.

“Knowledge of genome diversity will accelerate the genetic improvements of yield, abiotic stress tolerance, disease resistance and value-added seed composition,” says Henry Nguyen, Ph.D., who leads the project.

Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance Rhg1 is the most widely deployed SCN resistance gene, and although genetic markers linked to Rhg1 were discovered more than a decade ago, the gene or genes responsible remained elusive. In late 2012, researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Illinois demonstrated that not one but three genes at Rhg1 are responsible for SCN resistance. In addition, ten copies of each of the three genes are present on the chromosomes of typical SCN-resistant varieties.

“Soybean breeders can now incorporate Rhg1 more effectively into new germplasm, and researchers can develop better versions to push back against SCN populations that are gradually overcoming this gene,” says Andrew Bent, Ph.D., who leads the project.

Nested association mapping — The University of Illinois nested association mapping project locates genes that control yield and seed composition, as well as other agronomic traits, so that those genes can be exploited to create better varieties more quickly. Using both elite U.S. soybean varieties and soybean germplasm from other parts of the world, researchers can identify and determine gene locations on soybean chromosomes, which makes subsequent breeding much easier.

“This genetic mapping information will help soybean breeders become more efficient in selecting new soybean varieties with high yield and improved protein concentration,” says Brian Diers, Ph.D., who leads the project.

Epigenetics — New technology, being used at the University of Georgia, measures soybean epigenetics, which is variation caused by nongenetic factors. Researchers are looking at this variation to determine how it contributes to soybean physical characteristics, also called phenotypes.

“This will give breeders and scientists a fundamental grasp on genetic variation to efficiently breed higher-yielding soybeans,” says Scott Jackson, Ph.D., who leads the project.

For additional information, see http://www.unitedsoybean.org/.

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