Finding your way is much easier with a road map, and soybean researchers now have a map to find their way around the soybean genome. With the help of the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff-funded genomics tools, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has mapped and released a draft of the soybean’s genetic code.

“The initial funding from the United Soybean Board enabled the initial sequencing of what we call EST, express sequence tags. In my opinion this was the beginning,” says Gary Stacey, Associate Director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology at the University of Missouri. “USB was also very much involved all the way along, for instance, in sponsoring community workshops and community meetings. That was very critical for getting the soybean research community together.”

Researchers will not be the only ones benefiting from this achievement. Soybean farmers can look forward to better varieties becoming available faster than before. Breakthroughs are already happening on the development of a drought-resistant soybean variety. Along with improving defensive traits, researchers are also looking for genetic markers that may be able to help increase soybean yields.

“Having the genome expedites the process of soybean improvement,” says Perry Cregan a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher.

Stacey adds that this tool will allow researchers to do soybean breeding and mapping more precisely, meaning better ways to attack agronomic problems and better improvements to soybeans.

“Soybean farmers will be able to get new varieties faster and with better traits,” says Rick Stern, a soybean farmer from Cream Ridge, N.J., and USB director. “Eventually I hope to see substantially increased yields from new varieties that are resistant to diseases and can withstand drought better than the varieties we have today.”

USDA researcher David Hyten is already putting the genome to use by identifying new molecular markers that can be used to discover new traits in other lines of soybeans and closely related wild species. By comparing additional sequencing from other soybean lines to the genome sequence researchers are able to find hundreds of thousands of markers of which 50,000 will be selected to characterize the 19,000 soybean varieties housed in the USDA’s germplasm collection, which can be used to find new traits that could be useful to soybean farmers. Hyten’s project will create a database unlike anything available for any other species.

“The leadership of the soybean checkoff years ago allows us to be in the position we are today,” adds Stern. “I hope that in 10 years, soybean farmers will be able to look back and say the same thing about our decisions now.”

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.