Soybean research seeing an upswing

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COLUMBUS – Growing demand for food-grade and industrial-use soybean varieties has spurred an expansion of Ohio State University’s soybean breeding program – a welcome boost in a highly competitive industry.
The program, part of Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, has expanded its personnel and technology over the past four years, enabling researchers to increase the number of test plots, genetic crosses and varieties released.
Support. “Right now is a nice time to be in soybean breeding,” said Steve St. Martin, a soybean breeder.
“There has been no other time in my career that our breeding program has gotten so much attention and support.”
Through grant support from the Ohio Soybean Council and funding and marketing opportunities through Ohio State’s Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center, the development center’s soybean breeding program has been able to keep the state’s soybean industry thriving with high performance, improved yield, disease-resistant field or food-grade varieties.
With the expansion, St. Martin said researchers have been using marker technology through the center’s Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center (MCIC) to identify genes in a variety that exhibit specific characteristics.
Technology. “Marker technology is an easy way to identify those plants that carry the gene you want, whether it’s resistant to disease or low in saturated fat,” said St. Martin.
“The technology helps you get those varieties developed faster. Using technology at MCIC, we can conduct two cycles of genetic crosses a year, instead of only one a year.”
Because of marker technology, the number of genetic crosses made in the breeding program has increased 48 percent in two years.
In addition to conducting breeding techniques like genetic crosses, the center’s soybean breeding program also analyzes varieties tested in the field for performance, most notably yield increase and disease resistance.
“Growers are constantly looking for varieties that are resistant to diseases, such as Phytophthora, and those that yield well. No one wants to grow a variety if it’s low-yielding, no matter how much the industry wants it,” said St. Martin.
Leaders. “We are still the leader in the industry for Phytophthora-resistant varieties.”
In response to such production demands, the number of test plots in Ohio has increased 30 percent over the past four years. The result of breeding efforts is the release of soybean varieties for research, consumer consumption and industry use.
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has released 13 soybean varieties over the past five years.
Ohio is ranked seventh in the nation in soybean production with an annual value of over $1 billion.

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