Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

New soybean genome research: Major advance for agriculture

The sequencing of yet another genome has become ho-hum news for many. But now comes a sequence that is not just another DNA lineup. It’s the sequence of the soybean, a crop plant worth more than $2 billion a year in Minnesota.

The sequencing of yet another genome has become ho-hum news for many.

Now comes a sequence, though, that is not just another DNA lineup. It’s the sequence of the soybean, a crop plant worth more than $2 billion a year in Minnesota. Further, this is the first complete genetic spelling of any species of legume, one of the world’s most basic and nutritious foods.

A consortium of scientists from 18 government, academic and private institutions — including researchers in Iowa and Wisconsin — report in the journal Nature this week that they have created a draft sequence of the soybean genome to the chromosome scale. And they have analyzed it to the point they can predict more than 46,000 genes carrying codes for the proteins that make soybeans and other legumes so vitally important worldwide.

“The publication of the soybean genome sequence is a major advance for soybeans and for agriculture in general,” said Ronald Phillips, Regents Professor and McKnight presidential chair in genomics at the University of Minnesota. He was not part of the research team.

Article continues after advertisement

Soybeans are among the ancient polyploids, which means that at some time in the distant past, at least two parental genomes combined to form a highly complex chromosomal and genetic system. It has been difficult for scientists to crack that complexity by traditional genetic methods.

“Knowing the soybean sequence will give definitive answers to questions on its evolution and specific genes,” Phillips said. “The genome can be scanned for sequences known to represent important functions and traits in other species.”

With the sequence in hand, scientists in Minnesota and elsewhere now can easily deploy computer programs to identify genes associated with important traits and to spot variations in such genes.

“Variations in the sequence will provide landmarks for following the inheritance of various traits to an extent never before possible,” Phillips said

Humans and animals alike rely on legumes for their well being and survival. Also important for agriculture is the soybean’s capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen via symbioses with microorganisms in the soil, Nature noted.

“The work will provide a key reference for more than 20,000 legume species and will help with understanding of the plant’s capacity to turn carbon dioxide, water, sunlight and elemental nitrogen and minerals into energy, protein and nutrients for human and animal use,” Nature said.

The report encompasses more than 15 years of research supported by the National Science Foundation and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).