Soybeans: performing in fields and your body

ACCORDING TO AN AAFC RESEARCHER, SOYBEAN FARMING COULD REDUCE THE RISK OF HEART DISEASE

every seven minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke. So, what if soybean farmers could help lower that statistic and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? Dr. Steve Gleddie, plant genetics researcher with Agriculture and AgriFood Canada (AAFC) believes he can help develop soybean lines with elevated health qualities to reduce cholesterol and other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada, costing the Canadian economy more than $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity. And with Gleddie’s help, Ontario soybean farmers can, one day, reduce the risks and costs associated with this disease by growing heart healthy varieties.

Soybeans have been linked to several positive health outcomes including lowering serum cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. These health benefits have led to health claim labels in several countries including the US, EU and Japan. Those claims are not supported in Canada where more extensive research on the subject is required by Health Canada. “That’s why Health Canada teamed up with us to further examine health-promoting qualities of soy,” says Gleddie.

The difference between Gleddie’s research and previous soy health research will be the careful attention paid to soy proteins. The research team will reduce previous variables in soyfoods research by pinpointing the soy proteins responsible for providing beneficial health effects and attempt to create the ideal bean that will perform in both the field and in the body.

breeding for the best
Plant breeders have been selecting soybean seed for desired traits for years, but Gleddie, along with his research team, could soon offer farmers another desired trait — one that could help save lives. By using defined soybean lines with, or without the protein(s) responsible for most of the health benefits, the research team’s AAFC plant breeders, Drs. Elroy Cober and Vaino Poysa, are developing new genetic lines. These soybeans will be made into tofu, tested for quality by Dr. Judith Fregeau-Reid, AAFC, and fed to rats to measure the health effects.  Health Canada nutritionist, Dr. Chaowu Xiao will further examine how soy affects the level of cholesterol in the rats’ metabolism, a good indication of how soy consumption will affect heart disease risk factors in humans.

“We want to develop the best possible soybean seed that will perform well in the field and make good, healthy food,” says Gleddie. “Enriching a seed with all the good properties of soybeans and reducing the negative properties, like allergens, will help achieve this goal.”

identifying qualities
With more than 25 years of plant research behind him, Gleddie is complementing this current project with some of his previous research studies. Conducting previous soy allergen research, Gleddie was able to identify select proteins that caused allergic reactions in some Canadians. The differences in soy proteins are naturally occurring variances, some causing reactions, while others don’t, so the team began breeding out the negative, or allergen traits. Reducing allergens in soy will create a more desirable bean for consumption while reducing the risk of accidental exposure to those that are allergic to soy.

With considerable evidence pointing to specific soybean proteins as being important, Gleddie’s research project focuses on identifying the desirable and beneficial protein components. “We are attempting to provide important information on certain proteins or combinations of proteins that will be valuable in the development of a soy health claim,” he says.  Gleddie and his team are hopeful the results of this study will provide more information to potentially support a soy health claim by Health Canada to make consumers aware of the preventative health benefits of soy.

The project, started in April, 2011 is expected to wrap up in March, 2013. This study marks a unique collaboration between Agriculture and AgriFood Canada and Health Canada, one that is working to create a better performing soybean for farmers while providing health and nutritional benefits to consumers.

Funding has been provided in part by Grain Farmers of Ontario. •