Office of Research

Illinois researcher receives USDA grant to study soybean flowering response

Published February 23, 2011

Advanced genomic techniques and a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant of almost a half-million dollars will allow University of Illinois researchers to advance fundamental knowledge in plant science that will lead to healthier, more productive crops that play a key role in keeping American agriculture sustainable and competitive.

Yoshie Hanzawa, U of I assistant professor of crop sciences, will study flowering response to seasonal photoperiod changes in soybean.

"Flowering response is a critical factor to environmental adaptation of crop plants," Hanzawa said. "Flowering is a key trait that determines a plant's survival and productivity."

Hanzawa said the knowledge obtained through this project will enhance understanding of the molecular basis of photoperiodic flowering and provide valuable information to help plant breeders maximize yield potential by developing superior germplasm that's highly adaptive to diverse environments.

"We want to help open up a new frontier in soybean breeding," Hanzawa said. "We have a huge variation in day length from northern to southern United States. Our goal is to develop germplasm that fits each microenvironment by modifying the response of the soybean plant to day length."

One approach to increase soybean production today is to extend the seed filling period between the flowering time and the beginning of seed maturation, she said. Modification of photoperiod responsiveness would make this possible by advancing the flowering time and allowing cultivation of soybean at wider latitudes while improving yield.

"We must have genetic tools and information that allow modification of flowering time independently of seed maturation," Hanzawa said. "To achieve this, we must understand the molecular basis of the photoperiodic response on the flowering gene networks in soybean."

Hanzawa's project offers young scientists, including undergraduate students, excellent opportunities to learn and apply the latest advances in plant genomics research, she added. Because flowering affects many broad areas of plant research, these findings could impact development, physiology, genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, evolution, ecology and plant breeding.

NIFA awarded the grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational funding program. AFRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

Hanzawa will work in collaboration with Randall Nelson, USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection Curator and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.