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Project Launched to Map Soybean Genome

Genaissance, Monsanto and USDA team up to improve soybeans through mapping soybean DNA markers.

Have soybeans reached their yield plateau?

A new agreement between Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, Monsanto and USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) hopes to provide U.S. soybean plant breeders with new technology for more accurate and efficient plant breeding research to provide higher-yielding and disease-resistant soybeans.

The project's intent is to map single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) DNA markers in soybeans, creating a detailed molecular genetic map of the soybean that includes a large number of SNP DNA markers along with pre-existing SSR (simple sequence repeat) markers. In addition, all of the map position information and use of soybean SNP markers covered by the agreement will be freely available to all U.S. soy breeders and geneticists, creating the first publicly available map of its kind.

A SNP is a specific location along a chromosome where there is a variation in the genetic sequence. This variation can be used as a genetic marker. Scientists often use genetic markers as a tag to identify the specific location of a genetic trait on a chromosome. By tagging the desired trait, plant breeders can breed plants more efficiently and more accurately.

Monsanto's Global Genotyping Lead Robert Reiter says he hope the work "will lead to a better understanding of the soybean, and help develop ways to deliver improved soybean varieties faster and more efficiently, putting new technology into the hands of public soy researchers."

The collaborators plan to make the information available in Soybase, the USDA Soybean Genome Database, and dbSNP, the National Center for Biotechnology Information SNP database, as well as publish the information in scientific journals, so plant breeders have access to the important data.

The SNPs that are being mapped were discovered at the USDA, ARS Beltsville, Md., with support from the United Soybean Board.

"Because all of the SNPs are located in genes, the result of the work will be a genetic map that defines 'gene-rich regions' of the soybean genome," says Perry Cregan, USDA-ARS researcher. "It is the gene-containing regions that are of greatest interest to soybean breeders and geneticists who want to develop genetically superior soybean varieties with enhanced seed quality, greater disease resistance, and superior drought tolerance and yield."

"What we learn from this research will be critical in our search for additional insights into ways to improve the characteristics, production rates, and disease resistance of a variety of field crops, including soybeans, and other plant species," says Gerald F. Vovis, chief technology officer of Genaissance Pharmaceuticals.

ARS scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, discovered the soybean SNPs and saw value for public researchers in having the SNPs mapped. As part of the agreement, Monsanto will provide funding to support the mapping, which Genaissance will perform, given its expertise as a SNP genotyping services provider.

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