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Wild Soybean Resistant To Certain Diseases

November 15, 2010

Researchers found genes in wild varieties of soybean that makes them resistant to certain diseases.

The researchers may have also found genes that make wild varieties resistant to drought and saline soil, which are traits that cultivated soybean will need because the amount of arable land is shrinking around the world.

“(These traits) enable them to survive in suboptimal conditions and are important for utilizing marginal land,” said Lam Hon-ming, deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology at the Chinese University in Hong Kong.

“We can extract these genes and use them in varieties cultivated in suboptimal and marginal land,” Lam said in a telephone interview with the AFP news agency on Monday.

The team sequenced the genomes of 17 wild and 14 cultivated varieties of soybean and found that many genes in the wild varieties were either absent or different in the cultivated species.

Soybean cultivation in China has taken place for nearly 5,000 years, and in the U.S. since 1765.  Artificial selection of traits over time has resulted in the loss of many genes for the plants.

“However, the wild varieties have preserved these traits to survive in harsh conditions and they are important now with China’s arable land and water resources shrinking,” Lam said.

China is eager to find ways to increase food production because its population is expected to grow to 1.44 billion by 2030.  However, insufficient water and arable land is making that task difficult.

The country needs to feed 22 percent of the world’s population but only has 7 percent of the world’s arable land.  Its water resources are inadequate at just 25 percent of the per capita world average. 

“Good arable land will not increase. We have to look for marginal land and develop stress tolerance genes. There will be a higher chance of getting these resources in the wild,” Lam said.

Lam said that the study underlined the importance of preserving the habitat of wild crops.

“Habitats for wild soybean are shrinking and that is alarming. People should protect the habitat for wild crops or biodiversity will shrink,” he said.

The researchers have published their work in the latest eidition of Nature Genetics

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