Research Highlights

Research Highlights
New Breeding Technologies Applied to Meal

By Wayne Parrott, University of Georgia

Enabling technology starts with USB-sponsored research

The advent of herbicide-tolerant soybeans contributed over $13 billion to US soybean farmers between 2006 and 2016. While these varieties are released and marketed by major seed companies, much of the necessary technology used to develop them comes out of university labs. So the next time you buy a bag of biotech beans, remember, USB-funded projects under the rubric of the Center for Soybean Tissue Culture and Genetic Engineering Center helped make it possible. A total of $440,078 of that funding helped support this project.

Getting DNA into a cell is just the first hurdle. Technology called “sonication-assisted Agrobacterium-mediated transformation” has been licensed to major companies, who then pay royalties to USB. In this photo, the color blue is an indication that DNA successfully entered the cells of an immature seed.

Once DNA has been inserted into a cell, the next challenge is to get a whole plant back. USB-sponsored research developed protocols to get whole plants back from cultured cells. The photo shows the process as a cell becomes a sphere of cells that grows into something more recognizable.

Once engineered into a plant, a transgene will not function without the proper promoter, which is what the gene’s control switch is called. The photo shows green fluorescent protein expression with the industry standard promoter (CaMV 35S) compared with the GmubiXL promoter, which was discovered by USB-sponsored research and is now being licensed to companies.

Moving forward

All the technology previously used for engineering sets the stage for CRISPR genome editing. In turn, editing enables new breeding objectives that have been impossible or very difficult to obtain. Toward that objective, a toolbox of multiple Cas types to use with CRISPR is available for soybean.

This is the main tool needed to:

  • Alter protein/oil ratios
  • Improve the quality of soybean protein
  • Improve photosynthesis and thus yield
  • Improve resiliency to adverse growing conditions

Technological advances in genome sciences (DNA sequencing and synthesis) and the engineering of biological systems will allow scientists to design the soybean of the future — with improved biological efficiency and more resilience — and will provide the raw materials needed by industries to provide sustainable alternatives to plastics. Every part of the plant will be designed with optimal qualities for targeted use and applications. There is a recognition that “the world needs plants that can be used fully, to the last molecule,” and in the process deliver added value to farmers. Such designer crops would enable bio-manufacturing to thrive in rural areas and fuel the bio-economy in what has been referred to as a “bio-belt.” The soybean may turn out to be the best crop to power the bio-economy.

Published: May 7, 2020

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.