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Soybean Farmers Benefit from Nobel Prize-Winning Research

By Lisa M. Balbes

Last week, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier (Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany) and Jennifer A. Doudna (University of California, Berkeley, USA) for the development of a method for genome editing. CRISPR technology is currently in use by scientists worldwide to edit the DNA of plants, including soybean, with extremely high precision.  These “molecular scissors” are helping to develop new cultivars with higher yields, the ability to withstand pests and drought, and many other beneficial properties.  In fact, in a 2017 interview, Dr. Doudna said “The ability to make changes to the DNA of plant cells also opens up opportunities both in research and in solving problems in agriculture. That includes helping plants defend themselves against infection, drought, and other climate-change-related issues from a chemical perspective.”

Currently the soybean checkoff is supporting a significant number of research projects using this technology, including developing new research tools and understanding gene function, that will eventually result in improves soybean cultivars for U.S. farmers.  The United Soybean Board congratulates Drs. Charpentier and Doudna on their award, and thanks them for enabling our cutting-edge research.  A summary of current USB projects using these technologies is below.


  • Manipulating nodulation and nitrogen fixation efficiencies by editing the genes that control the interaction between soybean and nitrogen-fixing rhizobium (Purdue University)


  • Developing two high protein soybean products, each employing CRISPR to edit a single gene that results in an increase in seed protein. The first product is expected to show a >10% protein increase with no impact on oil or yield, and the second a 25% increase in protein that be used as a meal ingredient for plant-based meat and aquaculture feed.  (Amphora)
  • Elucidation of DNA elements that regulate gene expression, improve protein/oil content, and are easily regenerated into plants (University of Georgia)
  • Increasing soybean oil yield through modification of fatty acid biosynthesis pathways. (University of Missouri)


  • Improving soybean meal composition by gene editing and genetic modification to enhance the accumulation of methionine, an essential sulfur containing amino acid (University of Missouri)
  • Gene editing to knock out functional genes, and thus reduce or eliminate trypsin inhibitors – anti-nutritional factors that have been shown to reduce economic value (USDA/ARS, Columbia Missouri)
  • Using gene editing to improve the quality of soybean meal for food and feed applications by preventing soybeans from making bitter compounds that persist in meal (Benson Hill)
  • Modifying carbohydrate composition by decreasing indigestible carbohydrates and increasing sucrose utilizing raffinose synthase genes (Purdue University)


  • Developing soybean lines with higher levels of resistance to soybean cyst nematode (University of Missouri)
  • Understanding the role of master regulatory genes responsible for protein content in soybean seeds (USDA/ARS)
  • Characterizing and utilizing new sources of drought tolerance for soybean improvement, especially wild soybean (Glycine soja) (Purdue University)
  • Dissecting the genetic and molecular basis of abiotic stress tolerance in the unique soybean cultivar Fiskeby III soybean for advancing breeding outcomes (University of Minnesota)
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