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China Daily Global / 2024-05 / 14 / Page004

Gene editing improves soybean yield

By LI WENFANG in Guangzhou | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-14 00:00

Chinese researchers have developed new soybean breeding lines using gene editing, potentially boosting the yield and protein content of the critical crop.

Soybeans are the world's leading source of plant protein for food and animal feed, and the second-largest source of vegetable oil. However, China, a major consumer, relies heavily on imports due to its own relatively low soybean yield.

The research, details of which were published in Nature Plants on Thursday, addressed that challenge. Scientists used gene editing to create soybean mutants with improved "nodulation ability", a key factor in nitrogen fixation from the air. This allows the plants to capture more nitrogen, a vital nutrient for growth and protein production.

One promising mutant, ric1a/2a, demonstrated balanced carbon allocation and enhanced carbon and nitrogen acquisition.

Field trials over three years showed that ric1a/2a lines produced 10 to 20 percent higher yields and slightly more protein compared to a leading Chinese variety, Hua Chun-6, all while maintaining oil content.

"This demonstrates that gene editing toward optimal nodulation improves soybean yield and quality," said Guan Yuefeng, one of the study's authors and a professor at Guangzhou University.

However, larger-scale testing is needed, with trials to date conducted on plots no larger than 100 square meters.

The research adheres to China's 2022 guidelines for assessing the safety of gene-edited crops, which require the use of experimental sites and the acquisition of safety certificates before wider cultivation.

The team aims to apply the technology to other soybean varieties domestically and, in the long run, to crops like peanuts and alfalfa.

The development offers a potential solution for increasing domestic soybean production and protein availability in China, which would reduce reliance on imports and contribute to global food security.


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