“Scaring’” soybeans into defense mode yields better plants a generation later.

IMAGE: Stephen Kirkpatrick / USDA National Resource Conservation Service

IMAGE: Stephen Kirkpatrick / USDA National Resource Conservation Service

Team: Sally Mackenzie, Sunil Kenchanmane Raju, Mon-Ray Shao, Robersy Sanchez, Ying-Zhi Xu, Ajay Sandhu, and George Graef

Researchers are studying how to epigenetically reprogram soybean crops to enhance yields as well as tolerance for conditions such as drought and extreme heat, especially as food security will continue to be jeopardized in the coming decades. They have identified a gene they call MSH1 that exists in all plants. By temporarily silencing the expression of this critical gene, soybean plants are fooled into sensing they are under siege, encountering a wide range of stresses even though they are growing under perfect conditions. Then, after selectively cross-breeding those plants with the original stock, the progeny “remember” the stress-induced responses to become more vigorous, resilient, and productive plants generation after generation, as long as no other crosses are made.

By simply changing the way the existing genes are expressed, the research team increased the yield in soybeans by 14 percent. Because no new genes are introduced, the plant is not considered a genetically modified organism and therefore does not require any special regulatory approval. This significant enhancement in yield and growth performance could be deployed in any crop, and the team has already demonstrated that the approach works in tomatoes and sorghum.

Funding

National Science Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

News

Scaring’ soybeans into defensive mode yields better plants a generation later

Thematic Research Area

Advanced Agricultural and Food Systems

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Office for Research and Graduate Education

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217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600