In Australia there is a hardy perennial vine that appears in most parts of the country. The vine is called Glycine tomentella and is believed to be the distant relative of modern-day soybeans. The cool part is, scientist now believe the plant contains genetic resources that can substantially increase soybean yields. In fact, researchers at the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences have seen significant yield increases in soybean lines derived from crossing with Glycine tomentella. The discovery happened by accident as researchers from U of I and the USDA ARS had been working for several years to introduce disease-resistance genes from Glycine tomentella into soybean. After developing thousands of experimental lines, they finally managed to move genes form the Australian vine into a new soybean line that was resistant to soybean rust. But the researchers noticed how good the lines looked, so they decided to test for yield and found that several lines yielded significantly more than the traditional soybean parent. Glycine tomentella has no agronomic characteristics and the seeds are less than a tenth the size of soybean seeds. From what I understand, the process of getting Glycine tomentella genes into soybean is highly complex. The two plants are so distantly related that any mating would usually result in aborted seeds. But collaborator and study co-author, Ram Singh, developed a growth hormone solution that is sprayed on the young pods to keep seeds from aborting. Once that grows into a plant, it is crossed-back repeatedly with a soybean variety until the Glycine tomentella gets into the soybean genome. Aside from increased yield, some of the plants look and perform almost exactly the same as the original soybean plant. They plan is to fully map the genome of the promising plants, with the ultimate goal of identifying the genes responsible. Interestingly, the folks at U of I released a material transfer agreement last year that allows any soybean breeder to cross with these lines. The researchers say they have had little requests to utilize the resources, but are hoping that with the latest release in yield information others will become more interested. (Source:

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