ST. LOUIS -- The American Soybean Association applauds the USDA and Department of Energy's decision to sequence the soybean genome.

Decoding the DNA of the soybean, Glycine max, is important to the world's most valuable legume crop because it charts a course for soybeans to offer even more nutrition for humans and animals as well as greater value as a feedstock for biodiesel. The mapping will also increase understanding of how soybean plants can resist pests and pathogens, such as soybean rust.

Because of soybean mapping's importance, the ASA has chaired the U.S. Legume Crops Genomics Initiative for the last five years.

"For the US soybean farmer, the implications of decoding the DNA of soybean cannot be overstated," said ASA Board member Joseph Layton of Maryland, who was just elected to serve his second term as U.S. Legume Crops Genomics Initiative. "We look forward to working with DOE and USDA as they help pave the path for soybeans to offer even greater benefits to human and animal health, as well as help meet our nation's energy needs."

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Extension and Economics Service and DOE's Joint Genome Institute will share resources and coordinate the initiative that was announced on Jan. 16 during the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego.

"This agreement demonstrates a joint commitment to support high-quality genomics research and integrated projects to meet the nation's agriculture and energy challenges," said Colien Hefferan, administrator of USDA CSREES who signed the agreement for USDA.

"Both agencies will leverage their expertise and synergize activities involving agricultural- and energy-related plants and microbes," said Ari Patrinos, Department of Energy Associate Director of Science for Biological and Environmental Research. "We will enhance coordination of proposed sequencing projects through the Biological and Environmental Research Microbial Sequencing Program or the Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program."

Of the worlds 20,000 species of legumes, soybeans are the world's most valuable crop. Their annual value is estimated at $17 billion. Last year, U.S. farmers grew 3.1 billion bushels of soybeans on 75 million acres of land. In addition, soybeans and other legumes hold in the soil nearly 17 million tons of atmospheric nitrogen. This unique ability of legumes reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, reduces dependence on petroleum products, and improves soil and water quality.

DOE and USDA's work can also contribute to soybeans' ability to serve as a feedstock for cleaner burning biodiesel fuel that already offers the highest energy content of any alternative fuel. USDA and DOE have performed a life cycle study of the energy balance of biodiesel produced from soybeans in the U.S. A key finding is that for every one unit of fossil energy used in this entire production cycle, 3.2 units of energy are gained when the fuel is burned, or a positive energy balance of 320 percent.

Soybeans are the principal source of U.S. biodiesel. Last year, U.S. biodiesel production tripled to a record 75 million gallons.

Legumes also provide about one-third of global dietary protein and one-third of the processed vegetable oil consumed by humans. They provide essential minerals required by humans, a blood cholesterol-reducing effect, and given their hypoglycemic effect, are included in the diet of diabetics. Genomics approaches are essential for optimizing the nutritional compounds in legumes as well as eliminating allergens.

SOURCE: American Soybean Association.