Grant will help scientists uncover hidden soybean genes
"When the transposable element inserts itself into soybean genes, it prevents the gene from functioning, which in turn can alter the appearance of the plant or can be detected in the laboratory," Parrott said.
Radiation in the form of fast neutrons will also be used to derive additional mutations. Fast neutrons delete genes altogether, also changing the plant's appearance. The change in appearance is a direct indication of that gene's function.
Improved soybean varieties will allow farmers to plant a crop that produces more soybeans using the same amount of land. And with soybean plants that are disease- and insect-resistant, farmers wouldn't have to apply as much money-draining pesticide. Farmers could also grow varieties that produce more oil or more protein.
The soybean genetic stocks developed by the project will be available to other scientists for research and breeding.
"Soybean breeders will benefit directly by gaining the ability to make informed decisions about which genes to select for in order to more easily develop higher-yielding, disease- and stress-resistant soybean varieties," Parrott said.
In 2011, 75 million acres of U.S. farmland were planted in soybeans, resulting in 3 billion harvested bushels. Soybeans provide 66 percent of the edible fats and oils in the U.S.