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Wild vine boosts soybean yield

Researchers were looking for resistance genes and found a yield boost too

A distant relative to soybean that’s native to Australia could soon lead to a big jump in soybean yields.

The perennial vine, known as woolly glycine, or scientifically as Glycine tomentella, is a genetic resource that was part of a new study from researchers at the University of Illinois.

“We saw yield increases of 3.5 to 7.0 bushels per acre in soybean lines derived from crossing with Glycine tomentella,” said Randall Nelson, study author and adjunct professor in the university’s department of crop sciences.

The discovery happened by accident. Researchers from U of I and the USDA Agricultural Research Service had been working for years to introduce disease-resistance genes from Glycine tomentella into soybean.

After developing thousands of experimental lines, they finally managed to move genes from the Australian vine into a new soybean line that was resistant to soybean rust. But the researchers noticed something else.

“Some of these lines looked pretty good, so we decided to do some yield testing, (which) found several lines that yielded significantly more than the soybean parent,” Nelson said. “We were very surprised. To look at it, Glycine tomentella has no agronomic characteristics — the seeds are less than a tenth the size of soybean seeds. We never expected to get high-yielding lines out of this cross.”

The process of getting Glycine tomentella genes into soybean is highly complex. The two plants are so distantly related that any mating would ordinarily result in aborted seeds. A growth hormone solution prevents this and the rescued seeds are then back-crossed with soybean.

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