Research Highlights
SOYLEIC Success - Part 1

In a three-part series, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) outlines its success with funding a soybean trait research project from the ground floor to efforts now that will ultimately bring new, value-added commercial production opportunities to the nation’s farmers.

Missouri Farmers Fund Promising Trait Development

By Barb Baylor Anderson

When University of Missouri soybean breeders and a USDA molecular geneticist were exploring a promising new trait in the early 2000s, Missouri farmers were willing to invest in its prospects for a return on investment. Perhaps not since the state’s farmers helped fund biodiesel in its early days, was a research project as attractive as a non-transgenic, high oleic soybean trait. 

“It was an interesting time to hear about the novel breeding of this high oleic bean,” says John Kelley, farmer from Faucett, Mo., and past chairman of the MSMC. “Early results showed much higher levels of high oleic acid than the GMO varieties. It was evident we needed to pursue it.”

Kelley, who was part of the initial discussions, says the first question was how could Missouri farmers help? “It’s one thing to have something good for consumers and farmers, but it is another to take on a very large project that requires many staff hours and a lot of money to move forward. Research, promotion and education are all necessary expenditures for the checkoff for this project and others. We had to balance our expenditures, so no area was shorted.”

Grover Shannon, soybean breeding specialist at the MU Fisher Delta Research Center. For many years Shannon’s work has been in breeding new lines of soybeans for producers. Recently his team has developed a line of high-oleic soybeans that do not produce trans fat.

The non-transgenic high oleic soybean trait was first discovered by the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center soybean breeding team led by Grover Shannon, from a traditional cross in the field to increase oleic acid content from the standard 20 percent. Shannon crossed a line tested at 30 percent oleic content with another that tested at 40 percent, with the resulting cross having more than 80 percent oleic acid — greater than the 70 percent industry requirement.

With the promising cross, Shannon partnered with Kristin Bilyeu, USDA molecular geneticist at the University of Missouri, to evaluate the trait’s importance. Since the mutations occurred naturally, the soybean was a contrast to Monsanto’s Vistive Gold and DuPont Pioneer’s Plenish soybeans that were developed using genetic engineering to produce high oleic traits.

In 2018, the trait was trademarked as SOYLEICTM (part two of this series). Pengyin Chen, who replaced Shannon following his retirement in 2016, Andrew Scaboo, another University of Missouri soybean breeder, and others, started developing SOYLEIC soybeans in maturity groups III-V. Breeders in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Tennessee are also incorporating the trait into their programs to get the genes in maturity groups 00 to VII. Varieties are also being grown for seed to scale up to commercial availability.

Brian Diers, University of Illinois soybean breeder, has been working with the SOYLEIC trait for about six years. The challenge, he says, has been to combine all four of the necessary genes into varieties that have the same yield potential as today’s elite soybean varieties. Genes for low linolenic fatty acid are also needed to complete the industry requirement of less than three percent linolenic. Diers is working with maturity groups II-IV.

Andrew Scaboo (right), MU Senior Research Scientist, speaks about improving soybean yield using exotic and wild species. Alongside him is Grover Shannon, MU Professor of Plant Sciences.

“We have made tremendous progress and are reaching parity with yields. With United Soybean Board (USB) funding, the SOYLEIC trait has been backcrossed into varieties in Puerto Rico. Over cycles of breeding, we have achieved gains in yield performance, and we are starting to increase the seed of varieties so they can be sold to farmers,” he says.

USB also has funded a project bringing multiple state researchers together to move the goalposts more quickly. Diers and colleagues from around the country exchange materials for crossing and breeding to develop the best germplasm. They also are looking ahead at combining high oleic with an enhanced soybean meal trait to bring additional value to pork and poultry producers. 

“I am optimistic I will see the discovery at work in my fields,” says Kyle Durham, farmer from Norborne, Mo., and current MSMC chairman. “Our investment in this value-added innovation has been a good one, and we will continue to work through the hurdles so it is available soon.”

Part 2: The Partnerships, Patents and Licensing Behind SOYLEIC Success

Part 3:Farmers Set Up Promising SOYLEIC Program for Long-Term Success  

Images by Kyle Spradley | © MU College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.