SoyaGen: improving yield and disease resistance in short-season soybean
To develop breeding tools that will lead to new, high yielding soybean varieties that are adapted to the short growing season. The project will deliver an in depth understanding of genes that control maturity in soybean, diagnostic tools to detect the presence of Phytophthora root rot (PRR) and soybean cyst nematode (SCN), selection tools to develop varieties with higher disease resistance to PRR and SCN and identification of what is required to maximize the adoption of soybean in western Canada.
The SoyaGen project aimed to use genomics approaches to facilitate the development of early-maturing and high-yielding soybean varieties that better suit the needs of Canadian growers, including in new cropping regions. The project was articulated around five research activities. The first of these led to an in-depth characterization of the genetic make-up of 102 key Canadian soybean varieties and the same analyses were then extended to over 1,000 soybean varieties worldwide. Using this newly acquired knowledge, in a second activity, we were able to greatly improve our understanding of the genes that control soybean maturity, a key endeavor in view of developing new varieties that can reach their full maturity (and thus be harvested) within the short growing seasons encountered in the Canadian prairies and other regions where soybean is seeking to expand. New genes and variants were uncovered and we gained a better understanding of the optimal combinations of these genes/variants that provided the best performance across the various soybean cropping areas in the country. Another key to maximizing harvestable yield is to decrease losses due to pests. In Activity 3, we made great strides in improving resistance against two of the most important pests in soybean, through in-depth identification and characterization of the genes that regulate these gene-for gene interactions. By characterizing how the different pathotypes are distributed in growers’ fields across the country, we provide extremely useful information to breeders as to which resistance genes need to be built into new varieties to ensure that these are indeed protected against these key pests. In a fourth activity, we succeeded in identifying and defining new genes conferring resistance to three important pests, including some genes that, importantly, provide protection against all known pathotypes of one such pest (Phytophthora sojae). In Activity 5, socio-economic analyses were conducted to examine some of the key challenges that need to be overcome to support the continued expansion and success of the soybean crop in Western Canada. As a result of this project, the entire community of Canadian soybean researchers was able to work in a coordinated fashion to support the continued growth and profitability of what has become the third most important crop in Canada.