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Scientists say new computer model amounts to a lot more than a hill of beans
Date:4/3/2014

three, they used the unique tactic of computationally modeling the whole soybean plant.

"Our approach used a technique called 'numerical optimization' to try out a very large number of combinations of structural traits to see which combination produced the best results with respect to each of our three goals," said lead author Darren Drewry, a former postdoctoral researcher who is now at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. "And surprisingly, there are combinations of these traits that can improve each of these goals at the same time."

The model looks at biological functions, such as photosynthesis and water use, as well as the physical environment. The researchers looked at how the plant's biology changed with varying structural traits such as leaf area distributions, how the leaves are arranged vertically on the stalk, and the angles of the leaves.

For example, by changing the structure so that leaves are more evenly distributed, more light can penetrate through the canopy. This lets photosynthesis happen on multiple levels, instead of being limited to the top, thus increasing the plant's bean-producing power. A less dense canopy uses less water without affecting productivity. And changing the angle of the leaves can let the plant reflect back more solar radiation to offset climate change.

"Most of the genetic approaches have looked at very specific traits," Kumar said. "They haven't looked at restructuring the whole canopy. We have a very unique modeling capability where we can model the entire plant canopy in a lot of detail. We can also model what these plant canopies can do in a future climate, so that it will still be valid 40 or 50 years down the line."

Once the computer predicts an optimal plant structure, then the crop can be selected or bred from the diverse forms of soybeans that are already available without the regulation and costs associated with genetic engineering.'/>"/>

Contact: Liz Ahlberg
eahlberg@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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