For millennia, people have grown soybeans and turned them into many useful products. But when it comes to understanding why a soybean grows, blooms or produces like it does, researchers are left with unanswered questions.
University of Georgia professor Wayne Parrott aims to find the answers with a three-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and a jumping gene in rice found by a UGA colleague.
"I'm convinced that soybeans would be so much more useful and flexible if we knew what genes we need to be working with," said Parrott, a crop and soil sciences professor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The soybean's genome was sequenced, or mapped, earlier this year. Now Parrott and his colleagues from the universities of Nebraska, Missouri-Columbia and Minnesota are taking soybean's genetic map and translating it so that soybean breeders can use it to produce a better bean.
Parrott is using a jumping rice gene for his part of the research. His counterparts are using radiation.
UGA plant biology professor Sue Wessler found the jumping gene in rice. Her discovery is unique. The gene is one of only a few with the ability to cut themselves out of and move to another location in the genome, altering it, Parrott said.
She shared the technology. Parrott's lab will insert the jumping rice gene into soybean plants. When something changes in a plant with the added jumping gene such as how fast it flowers they will then search the plant genetically. When they find the jumping gene presumably in a new location in the genome they can identify the modified gene there and, in this example, know what caused the plant to bloom faster.
The more genes they identify using the jumping gene technique, the more they'll know about the soybean and what they can do to improve it. The soybean has a few issues that could stand modifying, Parrott said.
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University of Georgia