Agricultural Research Service scientists are a step closer to unlocking genetic clues that may lead to packing more protein and oil into soybeans, a move that would boost their value and help U.S. growers compete in international markets.

ARS researchers Carroll Vance, Yung-Tsi Bolon and Randy Shoemaker have narrowed down where genes that determine protein and oil content are likely to be found along the soybean genome. Vance and Bolon work in the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. and Shoemaker works in the ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa. The team also included Bindu Joseph, a post doctoral researcher who worked with Shoemaker and is now at the University of California-Davis.

More than half of the estimated $27 billion U.S. soybean crop is exported each year. But there is increasing competition for international markets, and low protein and oil content often deflate prices paid to U.S. growers, particularly in the Midwest.

The researchers used two different approaches to compare the genomes of two nearly identical inbred lines of soybeans that varied in seed protein and oil content, examining patterns in how thousands of genes are expressed, and sequencing 3 billion base pairs of soybean RNA.

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Source: USDA ARS