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Plant Cell Environ. 2012 Jan;35(1):38-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2011.02378.x. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Accelerating yield potential in soybean: potential targets for biotechnological improvement.

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USDA ARS Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit, 1201 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


Soybean (Glycine max Merr.) is the world's most widely grown legume and provides an important source of protein and oil. Global soybean production and yield per hectare increased steadily over the past century with improved agronomy and development of cultivars suited to a wide range of latitudes. In order to meet the needs of a growing world population without unsustainable expansion of the land area devoted to this crop, yield must increase at a faster rate than at present. Here, the historical basis for the yield gains realized in the past 90 years are examined together with potential metabolic targets for achieving further improvements in yield potential. These targets include improving photosynthetic efficiency, optimizing delivery and utilization of carbon, more efficient nitrogen fixation and altering flower initiation and abortion. Optimization of investment in photosynthetic enzymes, bypassing photorespiratory metabolism, engineering the electron transport chain and engineering a faster recovery from the photoprotected state are different strategies to improve photosynthesis in soybean. These potential improvements in photosynthetic carbon gain will need to be matched by increased carbon and nitrogen transport to developing soybean pods and seeds in order to maximize the benefit. Better understanding of control of carbon and nitrogen transport along with improved knowledge of the regulation of flower initiation and abortion will be needed to optimize sink capacity in soybean. Although few single targets are likely to deliver a quantum leap in yields, biotechnological advances in molecular breeding techniques that allow for alteration of the soybean genome and transcriptome promise significant yield gains.

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