Gene editing expands soybean planting in China

Chinese agricultural scientists using gene-editing technology have created new soybean mutants, which could lead to soybean crops in much warmer climates including South China and countries near the Equator.

To create the soybean mutants, research teams from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences knocked out two genes using the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR, Hou Wensheng, a research fellow at the Institute of Crop Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Experiments showed that the mutants flowered 31 days later and produced significantly more pods and seeds per plant than that were planted in the south.

The team believes these mutants may have enormous yield potential at low latitudes and the tropics. The team’s research has been published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Soybean crops planted in warmer climates have low yields due to shorter time periods needed to mature, seriously affecting the flowering and maturity of soybeans.

The research teams plan to further modify the mutants to make them pest-resistant and adaptable to environments at lower latitudes, Hou said.

In China, soybeans are mainly grown in Northeast China, Central China’s Henan Province and East China’s Anhui Province.

China is the world’s largest consumer of soybeans and over 80 percent of its soybeans are imported from countries including the US and Brazil.

The research could help China increase its soybean production, although may not immediately change the dependence on imports due to limited cultivatable land for soybean planting, Hou said.

However, China has been expanding the amount of land used to grow soybeans this year. At a press conference of the State Council in February, officials said that China will step up efforts to expand cultivation of soybeans, accelerate research on nurturing high-yield crops and improve management of soybean production to rejuvenate the industry.

China’s soybean cultivation area is expected to increase to 140 million mu (9.3 million hectares) by 2020, while the soybean self-sufficiency rate will also rise by 1 percentage point by 2020.

Source: Global Times