Soybeans for oil and protein content

Soybean development has always focused on yield, protein, or oil. Historically through traditional breeding, we’ve been able to increase one or two of those components, but at the detriment of another. Emerging trait technologies and enhancing photosynthesis are changing the composition of the bean beyond what traditional breeding can do.

Han Chen is the CEO of ZeaKal, a seed trait technology company in San Diego. He says through their PhotoSeed trait, they’ve been able to increase both oil, primarily in the form of heart healthy oleic acids, and the protein content of the soybean.

"We are able to do this because we are also increasing the plant’s photosynthesis," says Chen. "Meaning, that the plant is able to fix more CO2, fix more sunlight, and we’re able to make that additional energy available into the form of higher oil and higher protein so that the plants are not necessarily sacrificing yield to create a better bean."

Chen says they’ve increased the per-acre production of oil by 18% and protein by 3% without any penalty to seed yield. He’s hoping this will become the new soy standard which could provide new revenues for everyone involved from the farmer to exports.

"Because when you have more oil in the bean, it’s just more profitability for the crushers and for the processors," he says. "When you’re able to get more protein, the resulting protein meal is more valuable for livestock operators as an animal feed, it’s more valuable for our international exports where it’s obviously very costly to be importing beans across the Pacific."

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