Soybean Genome Shows Ways to Improve Biodiesel

John Davis

soybeanA team of scientists has cracked the code on the soybean genome, and that information could lead to better biodiesel yields from the oilseed.

This article from says the team consists of 18 institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Purdue University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The DOE, National Science Foundation, USDA and United Soybean Board supported the research:

“The soybean genome’s billion-plus nucleotides afford us a better understanding of the plant’s capacity to turn sunlight, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water, into concentrated energy, protein, and nutrients for human and animal use,” said Anna Palmisano, DOE Associate Director of Science for Biological and Environmental Research. “This opens the door to crop improvements that are sorely needed for energy production, sustainable human and animal food production, and a healthy environmental balance in agriculture worldwide.”

With the soybean genetic code now determined, the research community has access to a key reference for more than 20,000 legume species and can explore the extraordinary evolutionary innovation of nitrogen-fixing symbiosis that is so critically important to successful agricultural crop rotation strategies.

Jeremy Schmutz, the study’s first author and a DOE JGI scientist at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama, said that the soybean sequencing was the largest plant project done to date at the DOE Joint Genome Institute. “It also happens to be the largest plant that’s ever been sequenced by the whole genome shotgun strategy—where we break it apart and reassemble it like a huge puzzle,” he said. Of the more than 20 other plant genomes taken on by the DOE JGI, those already sequenced include the black cottonwood (poplar) tree and the grain sorghum, both targeted because of their promise as biomass feedstocks for biofuels production.

Soybean farmers will also be glad that the research could end the threat of soybean rust.

Biodiesel, Soybeans