Email Print Share

"Designer Beans" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a computer model that can help plant scientists breed better soybean crops.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Breeding a better bean.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

In the evolution of plants, many traits have come about as a result of competition with other plants for limited resources like water and nutrients. But agricultural crops don't face those same competitive challenges. Better for them to be bred "just get along" and share resources. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a computer model that can help breed more optimum crops: Soybeans for starters.

The team set out with multiple goals: To be able to breed plants that are more productive, use less water and have a structure that reflects more sunlight back into space.

Their technique let them try out large numbers of combinations of structural trait--things like leaf arrangement on the stalk, and leaf angle--to see which combinations would result in a plant that meets their three goals.

The computer model predicted a design for a soybean crop with 8.5 percent more productivity, using 13 percent less water, and reflecting 34 percent more sunlight.

Once the computer predicts an optimal structure, the crop could be bred from the many forms of soybeans already available. No need for genetic engineering! The team says the system could work with other crops too, and help boost the world's food supply.

A different kind of bean-counting.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.