The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and the University of Illinois are researching the potential of exotic Chinese soybean lines to increase yields for U.S. farmers.

Randall Nelson, USDA-ARS scientist and professor at the University of Illinois, and Brian Diers, professor at the University of Illinois, and their teams are testing genes from old soybean breeding lines from China to look for genes that can increase the yield potential of U.S. varieties. The researchers identified the locations of several genes from the Chinese lines that have a positive impact on yield in U.S. varieties. These genes gave yield increases of one to two bushels per acre and when stacked together yield increases of eight to nine bushels per acre were observed, according to Diers.

“Our goal in this project was to map the major yield-increasing genes from the exotic Chinese lines with genetic markers so these genes can be used by U.S. soybean breeders," said Diers. "Our data show clear evidence that increased yields can come from exotic germplasm. This type of research helps expand the genetic base of U.S. germplasm, which should lead to better yields and other agronomic characteristics."


Nearly 80 percent of genes in modern soybean varieties can be traced back to just a dozen ancestral lines and their first-generation offspring, according to Nelson. “Our soybean breeding program to incorporate new genetic diversity is designed to increase the rate of yield improvement," he said. "This is a long-term approach that ultimately helps Illinois farmers stay more competitive. Farmers want to increase yields, and we are attempting to provide the genetics that help reach higher yields and profitability.”

The project is being funded by the Illinois Soybean Association.