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Genome composition due to long-term selection by soybean breeders

Principal Investigator

Istvan Rajcan

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

Huron Commodities Inc.; National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Development program (NSERC-CRD); SeCan

Project Start

December 2013

Project End

December 2017


  • Determine the changes in the soybean genome due to long-term breeder selection.
  • Develop molecular-based strategies that can be applied to facilitate the development of new and improved soybean cultivars with maximum genetic potential to be used in a public and private soybean breeding program.


  • The determination of different genes contributing to high productivity/yield in Canadian soybeans coming from different parent sources may lead to improved soybean cultivars with maximum genetic potential to be commercially available.
  • The understanding of genetic control of seed compositional traits such as oil, protein, isoflavones and fatty acids will allow for the development breeding strategies for their further improvement.
  • An assessment of the genetic diversity in Canadian soybean germplasm developed over 50 years of breeding will help to determine genetic vulnerability due to a narrow gene pool.

Scientific Summary

The value of Canadian soybeans is over $1 billion annually. Soybean breeding in Canada began at the University of Guelph in the 1920’s. Since then, soybean production has enjoyed tremendous expansion throughout Canada, initially from mainly Ontario and now well into Quebec and western Canada. The continued improvement of soybean cultivars relies on sufficient genetic variation between parents to produce progeny variable for traits of interest upon which improvement can be made. As phenotypic variation is positively associated with genetic diversity, it is important for a soybean breeding program to maintain a sufficient level of genetic diversity for continued genetic gain resulting in development of commercial cultivars. In addition, developing soybean cultivars for niche markets has been an important objective for Canadian soybean breeders. Therefore, genetic diversity for yield and value-added traits, such as food grade quality or nutraceutical compounds, is essential. Recent advancements in genomic technologies provide unprecedented capabilities in investigating genome changes in soybean, especially for relevant traits.

By applying genomic technologies to pedigrees of a breeding program, the specific changes in the soybean genome due to long-term breeder selection can be studied. By genotyping the members of a pedigree, changes in genetic diversity over generations of breeding activity can be characterized. In addition to the overall effects of selection, specific genomic changes known as “signatures of selection” can also be detected. The selection signatures appear to be frequent in genomic regions controlling traits of agronomic importance. An improved understanding of the factors involved in breeding for most important traits in soybean and development of genomics tools that will facilitate it will help to maintain Ontario soybean growers’ competitiveness by further enhancing genetic gains in yield and other important traits.

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