Soybeans Get a Wild Partner

July 29, 2011 10:02 AM
Soybeans Get a Wild Partner

Transfer of important traits might someday answer production challenges

Soybeans are so darn self-sufficient. Their self-pollinating ways mean they are persnickety about sharing pollen.

Yet, growing in a Champaign, Ill., research field is a new soybean that is unlike any other. University of Illinois agronomist and plant cytogeneticist Ram Singh has successfully crossed soybeans with a distant relative. The resulting genetic diversity may one day answer many production challenges.

Singh uses a concept known as wide hybridization, which is the transfer of agriculturally important traits from one species to another.

Using his own patented methodology, Singh has crossed traditional soybeans with an Australian wild perennial species called Glycine tomentella. This small viny perennial originated on Brampton Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

"These perennial species represent a rich and unused source of new genetic diversity for long-term soybean improvement," Singh says.

It’s not possible to cross these species using standard procedures because G. tomentella has 78 chromosomes and traditional soybeans have 40 chromosomes. Singh takes pollen from the wild perennial species and moves it to the flower of the soybean.

The resulting seed is cultured in a lab setting. "It may take six months to produce a plant from this seed," Singh says. "After the original plant is produced, it takes many backcrosses to the soybean to produce a plant that is self-fertile."

Singh says he and his team have already identified soybean lines with genes from G. tomentella that change oil and protein concentrations, plant height, flower color and the time of maturity.

Soybean lines with resistance to Phytophthora and sudden death syndrome have also been produced, and screening to identify resistance to soybean cyst nematode and soybean rust is in progress.

"This is a very challenging field of research," Singh says. "But it has the potential to significantly change the future of soybean breeding."

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