Wild Soybeans Could Hold the Key to Improving Today’s Varieties
The process of breeding modern soybeans for commercial cultivation has greatly narrowed the plant’s genetic gene pool compared to wild varieties left to grow at-will for thousands of years in China. Scientists fear that this lack of genetic diversity in today’s soybeans leaves the crop vulnerable to events, such as the corn blight that struck in the 1970’s that nearly wiped out the entire corn crop, and issued a warning to the industry on the dangers of persistently, narrowing gene selection.
Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), collaborating on a multistate, soy checkoff-funded study believe that genes found in the much more variable, wild varieties of soybeans in China could be utilized to strengthen and improve today’s commercially grown varieties.
Traits found in the wild could positively affect protein levels, amino acid composition, stress resistance, disease resistance, and most importantly to the industry, higher yields.The team has already developed a series of lines from selected wild soybeans in their first round of breeding and has transferred some of their material to companies that are beginning to integrate these lines into their research and development programs.