USA- Researchers are aiming to unlock the soybean potential through an ambitious initiative led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U. of I.) and the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI). 

The project aims to sequence 400 soybean genomes, creating a comprehensive “pangenome” to unveil the wealth of diversity within the genome, ultimately resulting in a more robust and resilient crop.

The soybean pangenome project will meticulously sequence and analyze at least 50 soybean genomes from cultivated lines and wild relatives at the gold standard of modern sequencing – reference quality. 

An additional 350 genomes will be sequenced as high-quality drafts, significantly enhancing the existing soybean reference genome.

This initiative will encompass a diverse range of soybean lines, including perennial relatives and those selected to thrive in harsh conditions. The objective is to equip the industry to embrace a climate-resilient future, a crucial consideration in today’s changing environmental landscape.

Project leader Matt Hudson, a professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U. of I., emphasized the significance of understanding the genetic diversity present within cultivated soybeans. 

Knowing details of all of the genetic variation should very much enhance and speed up the ability of crop breeders and biotechnology experts to identify important genes and incorporate them into better crops,” he stated. 

The team, in collaboration with U. of I.’s AIFARMS, will be at the forefront of analyzing the vast amount of data generated. Hudson also highlighted the importance of genetic diversity as the raw material for crop improvement. 

However, the existing reference genome falls short of reflecting the true diversity of the crop. The project intends to bridge this gap by sequencing a comprehensive array of soybean genomes.

In analogy to the first human genome, initially pieced together from a narrow demographic, Hudson stressed the necessity to expand the reference to encompass the entire spectrum of genetic diversity. 

The project aims to consult the global soybean breeding community, including industry partners, to prioritize which lines should be included in the sequencing.

Ultimately, this initiative will provide a deeper understanding of the evolution and domestication of modern soybeans, empowering researchers and breeders to select previously hidden genetic variations critical for variety development. 

Given the growing global importance of soybeans as a staple crop and a key bioenergy crop, this project is expected to have a profound impact, particularly benefiting U.S. agriculture.