The first time Jianxin Ma grew wild ancestors of soybeans, called Glycine soja, at the Purdue Agronomy Research Center two years ago, some of the staff thought it was a field of weeds and was ready to disk it up.
He's making genetic improvements, and this year they look more like soybeans, although many are still low-growing and somewhat vining.
There are three rows of regular soybeans along the edge of the plot – is that a reminder to the staff that it is a real experimental field?
One of the problems with soybean genetics is that the overall soybean population is not very diverse, Ma says. His work is going back to the beginning, using soja as a source of possible genes that could fit into today's modern cultivars and add an important trait, such as resistance to a specific disease.
Supported by several companies and agencies through funding, including the Indiana Soybean Alliance, his field has lovingly been called "Indiana's Soybean Field Museum."
It's located in the heart of ACRE, and you can find it growing there until this fall, when Ma and his staff will make selections and harvest seed for planting next year.
One thing Ma does in the "museum" is look for genes for both favorable and unfavorable wild traits. He identifies genes that cause hard seeds or pod shattering, and he also identifies genes responsible for the ability to withstand stresses and for yield. He has developed two large inbred lines from two crosses of a modern cultivar with soja.
His goal is to use these crosses to pinpoint several key genes. The eventual goal will be to take genes found in the living museum that are beneficial and move them into elite soybean lines. It won't happen overnight but Ma is confident that it's possible and likely to accomplish this goal.