Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Nebraska Scientist Explores Soybean Anti-Inflammatory Properties to Aid Human Digestion

Soybean sprouts growing in Toshihiro Obata's research lab may someday aid in human digestion. Photo: Toshihiro Obata

By Carol Brown

In this day and age, many people are focusing on their health for numerous reasons. Staving off disease, overcoming poor diet habits or weight gain, or just to feel better are just a few reasons people are making lifestyle changes. As cases of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders climb, doctors and scientists are looking for more options that can help humans improve their diet and health.

Toshihiro Obata is exploring what soybeans can provide for improved human health. Situated amid millions of acres of soybeans, Obata doesn’t lack for subject matter availability. The University of Nebraska Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and his team are studying the soybean sprout and its anti-inflammatory properties to help improve human digestive health. 

“We are generating soybean germplasm that can improve protein seed composition and also found there are properties within the soybean sprout that can reduce inflammation in the gut and intestine,” says Obata. “We have found that the soybean sprout contains these anti-inflammatory properties and not the bean itself.”

The objectives of the three-year project, funded by the Nebraska Soybean Board, include defining the changes in chemical composition of the soybean during sprouting and gastrointestinal digestion; evaluating the anti-inflammatory effect of the germinated beans in intestinal epithelial cells after simulated gastrointestinal digestion; and identifying the chemical component in the soybean and its sprout responsible for anti-inflammatory activity and the genes regulating its accumulation.

The study has been completed in the laboratory setting only and not on actual people. Obata says that the next phase of the project was to study these positive anti-inflammatory effects in mice. This portion of the research project is ongoing but was slowed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Results are being evaluated and will be released this later this year.

“We have found substantial reduction of the chemicals related to the inflammation in the cultured intestinal cells where they are treated with digested soybean sprout,” Obata says. “There could be potential for strong health benefits in humans when consuming soybean sprouts. There could also be potential for increased market value of soybeans as this will be another way to utilize the crop.”

The soybean sprout is not currently mass-marketed for human consumption in the United States. Most bean sprouts available in the U.S. come from the mung bean. 

In the upcoming year, Obata and his team will take this study a step further. They will be looking at chemical profiles of the soybean plant to find when the sprout reaches the optimum level of anti-inflammatory properties to learn when to harvest the sprouts for consumption. They will also explore ideal growing conditions for maintaining the anti-inflammatory properties and how environmental factors, such as heat or drought, may impact these properties.

Results from Obata’s research could lead to a win for those with gastrointestinal or cardiovascular disorders and diseases. And finding another way to use and market the U.S. soybean crop could be a win for farmers as well.

Published: Feb 1, 2021

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.