Soybean studies

OAC BREEDS BETTER BEANS

soybean oil is highly versatile and new applications for it are rapidly emerging. The Ontario Agricultural College’s (OAC) research team at the University of Guelph, led by Drs. Istvan Rajcan and Gary Ablett, has been working since 1999 to breed soybeans with highly marketable traits.

The overarching goal of the breeding program is to develop superior soybean cultivars and germplasm. The focus of the research is on two key areas of interest:

  • Soybean seed quality traits relating the end products to specific applications
  • Genetics of soybean disease resistance including a focus on Sclerotinia stem rot (white mould), Phytophthora rot, Rhizoctonia root rot, and soybean cyst nematode (SCN)

The work includes modified oils for emerging food, industrial, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical markets, as well as examining the impact of environment and genotype on isoflavone and other seed components. The knowledge coming out of this program will benefit the Ontario soybean industry by expanding the market for soybean oil and by increasing value for identity preserved production systems.

Below:  Dr. Istvan Rajcan studying soybean plots in China.

pest tolerance
Of direct benefit to Ontario soybean producers is the research on enhanced stability. Disease and pest control and increased yield are constant concerns. “One of the most effective ways of combating plant diseases is through identification and incorporation of disease resistance genes into adapted soybean varieties,” says Rajcan.

By identifying disease resistant and pest tolerant genes, the team expects producers to have greater quality control and stability and therefore, greater profitability. Molecular markers facilitate the discovery and usage of these genes. “With the help of molecular markers, we are involved in studying the genetic basis underlying accumulation of isoflavones and other nutraceutical compounds in soybean seeds,” says Rajcan. “Since seed quality traits tend to be quantitative in nature, we are using the quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping approach to identify genomic regions associated with such traits.”

overcoming a narrow gene pool
One of the concerns of the soybean industry lies in sustaining the progress in annual soybean yield increases across North America (NA). Soybean germplasm is considered relatively narrow from a genetic standpoint because only 35 ancestral lines make up 90 percent of genetics of all soybean varieties in NA. Rajcan is working on incorporating new genetics from the centre of the origin of soybeans – China. He has been collaborating with northeast Chinese provinces to study yield information from the Chinese breeding programs that could help increase the yield of Ontario soybeans.

The breeding program operates out of two locations comprised of two different heat zones. The Ridgetown Campus was known for RCAT soybean varieties and the Guelph campus’ Ontario Agriculture College was known for OAC soybeans. Both are part of the University of Guelph and beans from both locations are now identified with the preface OAC. The research team also collaborates with geneticists, breeders and plant pathologists at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada centers in Ottawa and Harrow and the private sector.

a history of success
OAC’s soybean breeding program has a long history tracing back to the 1920s when Dr. Charles Zavitz, a professor of field husbandry, developed the first Canadian soybean variety. The active breeding program was launched in the 1970s by Wally Beversdorf. Ablett began leading the program at Ridgetown in 1982. As evidence of his international stature, Ablett was elected and served as chair of the Continuing World Soybean Conference from 2004 to 2009. Rajcan has been leading the Guelph campus program since 1998. He is the recipient of many awards, most recently the OAC Alumni Distinguished Researcher Award in 2008.

The flagship outcome of the breeding program is the development of the OAC Wallace bean, which achieves excellent yields in both wet and dry years and has been ranked the top yielding bean in 2600 to 2800 heat unit areas for seven years running. It is adapted for all Ontario soil types, is good for no-till and conventional tillage, and is tolerant to phytophthora root rot.  Another variety, OAC Kent, a premier food grade variety in the 3100 and 3400 crop heat unit zones, won the Seed of the Year Award in 2008 for its significant contribution to Canada’s seed sector. It is one of the most popular beans imported to Japan and has sold hundreds of thousands of bags since its release in 2000.

Funding for the breeding program is provided by the Canada-Ontario Research and Development Program, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), SeCan, Hendrick Seeds, Pro Seeds of Canada and others. •

About Meghan Burke 17 Articles
Manager, Communications, Grain Farmers of Ontario