CSIRO soybean breeder Andrew James is relying on Chinese expertise with plant hybridisation to toughen commercial soybean cultivars with traits from Australian native glycines. (Soybean is a glycine.)
There are about a dozen glycine variants and Mr James is after characteristics they've developed to survive in the Australian environment: like resistance to weathering — achieved through a natural dormancy imposed by a tough seed coat - tolerance of acid soils, and resistance to diseases like rusts and Sclerotinia.
"Our native glycines are also promiscuous in their nodulation, meaning they do not need inoculation with specific rhizobium to carry out their role of fixing soil nitrogen, and they contain novel proteins and fatty acids. A better understanding of those nutritional properties could reveal potential for inclusion in specialty stockfeed mixes, for aquaculture for instance."
The challenge is that native glycines have strongly resisted being crossed with cultivated soybeans, with US researchers unable to repeat their one, successful, crossing procedure. Which is why CSIRO has linked up with the Ningbo Institute of Agriculture Sciences in China's Zhejiang Province, where researchers have successfully carried out the same process - called somatic hybridisation — in rice.
Somatic hybridisation involves the fusion of cells from the two parent plants into a single cell. (The resulting plants are not transgenic.)
"Our collaboration has seen the first crosses made, between a wild glycine from Queensland and the Australian commercial soybean varieties Leichhardt and Melrose," said Mr James. "If everything works the first time, the crosses will need a couple of years of evaluation and then a normal crossing program to release, five to 10 years."
Program 2.5.1 Contact: Mr Andrew James 07 3214 2200