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USB Research Fellow Fights Soybean Rust

Zachary King loves the sight of a field of soybeans.

“It’s just a good-looking plant,” says King, a recipient of a soy checkoff’s research fellowship. “And you can do so many things with soybeans. You can make plastics out of them, you can make biodiesel from them and you can make food from them.”

King left his native upstate New York to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Georgia, where he is now working toward a Ph.D. in plant genetics.

He’s involved in research to identify genes that naturally occur in soybeans that promote rust resistance. Once those genes are identified, King helps breed selective lines that exploit those genes and test the trait in the field. He studies under veteran soybean researcher Roger Boerma, Ph.D., a longtime soy checkoff partner who specializes in soybean breeding and genomics. Donna Harris, a fellow Ph.D. student started the rust project.

“Our research has led us to pinpoint seven new genes we think could be the key to rust resistance in soybeans,” says King. “In the field studies we’ve done, the plants with these genes hold up really well against the pathogen while other soybeans really suffered.”

The checkoff’s soybean research fellowship program provides financial assistance to students pursuing an advanced degree in a field that could benefit U.S. soybeans, such as agronomy, weed science or molecular biology. King identifies the program as an effective way to empower U.S. soybean farmers with the tools to help them protect their crops and increase their yields.

“Through the fellowship, the checkoff is supporting studies that will help farmers,” King says. “The traits we identify could lead to a variety of soybeans that stand up to soybean rust, which would be good news for farmers.”

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