Checkoff-funded study focuses on protein-controlling genes

Farm Forum

It’s no secret that poultry, livestock and fish have a taste for U.S. soybean meal. And by increasing the protein content in U.S. soybeans, farmers can maintain demand from their biggest meal customers. And higher demand can lead to higher profits.

To achieve this, the soy checkoff funds research to improve soybean meal quality, like an Iowa State University project led by Ling Li, Ph.D.

“We’re interested in the genes associated with high protein,” explains Li. “We’ve found genes that have increased protein in new soybean varieties by five to eight percent compared with the control.”

Li’s control, or the variety she uses as a baseline to compare new varieties in this project, is Williams 82. That’s the variety whose entire genetic code has been sequenced with the help of checkoff-funded tools. Scientists often use Williams 82 for research because they can use the map of its genome to identify genes that control key traits, such as high protein.

“I’ve crossed Williams 82 with other lines, some with high protein and some with low protein and the new varieties are growing in the field,” says Li. “So we can compare the high protein from the new plant versus the lower-protein control plant, and through gene expression, we can hopefully identify the genes responsible for controlling protein content.”

Li says data from her test plots show almost no yield difference between the new higher-protein varieties and the control.

If successful, the genes Li identifies could be used by private seed-technology companies to develop new high-quality soybean varieties that farmers can plant. However, varieties exist now that can help farmers increase the protein content in their soybean meal without impacting yield. Visit the soy checkoff’s Soybean Quality Toolbox to see which varieties perform the best in your area.