Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Soybean Genome

Genome sequencing speeds ability to improve soybeans

Purdue University scientists led an effort to sequence the soybean genome, giving researchers a better understanding of the plant's genes and how to use them to improve its characteristics.
The genome was published in the Jan. 13 issue of the journal Nature.

This sequencing of the soy genome is the culmination of more than 15 years of collaborative research. The team used a whole-genome shotgun approach to sequence 85% of the 1.1 billion nucleotide base pairs that spell out the soybean's entire DNA code.

Purdue agronomy professor Scott Jackson said the U.S. departments of Energy and Agriculture study found that the soybean has about 46,000 genes, but many of those — 70-80% — are duplicates. This duplication may make it difficult to target the genes necessary to improve soybean characteristics such as seed size, oil content or yield.

Despite the difficulties the soybean genome presents, having a sequenced genome does speed up the work scientists are able to do to improve the plant's characteristics. Genome sequencing eliminates the need for meticulous searches for particular genes.

"It really is going to change the way we ask questions about soybeans in research," said Randy Shoemaker, a research geneticist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service at Iowa State University and the paper's co-author. "What used to take us literally years can take us weeks or months now. This is the entire genetic code in front of you."

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As we continue to learn more about the plants and animals that we rely on for food, fiber and pharmaceuticals, the more opportunities we find to improve our lives and the planet we live on. The soybean is one of our most versatile crops and with this new understanding we will continue to grow the list of uses. Continuing to fund research in agriculture will be vital to the future success of feeding our world.

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