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Genetic improvement of soybeans for yield, disease resistance and value-added seed components

Principal Investigator: Istvan Rajcan

Research Institution: University of Guelph

Timeline: April 2013 – March 2018


  • Develop high yielding conventional food grade (non-GM) and glyphosate-tolerant (GM) soybean varieties for food grade markets including tofu, natto and miso, and oil crush markets.
  • Incorporate new alleles from Chinese elite soybean varieties using marker assisted selection for SCN and white mold resistance, higher yields, oil content and quality protein.
  • Develop new SCN-resistant varieties using Canadian and U.S. sources.
  • Evaluate genetic diversity for soy saponins for their astringency and anti-cancer attributes and work towards increasing the beneficial saponins in food grade soybeans.
  • Develop new varieties with increased oil content to improve the efficiency of oil production for edible oil and bioproducts including biodiesel. 


  • The project has developed 20 registered soybean varieties thereby providing Canadian soybean growers with access to new and improved soybean varieties.
  • The project expanded research on Type B soy saponin for anti-cancer benefits.
  • With the introduction of exotic germplasm from China, opportunities for Canadian soybeans have also been expanded to increase yield and improve the seed quality of Canadian soybeans.

Scientific Summary:


Five objectives were set for the soybean research project, and they all focused on meeting the needs of Canadian soybean growers and creating new varieties that will be desirable for farmers to grow. 

Variety development

Twenty-nine soybean varieties were developed during the five-year project.

Licensed VarietyLicensed toCharacteristics
OAC 13-50C-ZLHuron Commodities Inc.High yielding Zero lipoxygenaseFood grade MG 1
SeCan 13-15CSeCanHigh yieldingHigh proteinMG 0
SC 3313NSeCanHigh yielding High proteinSCN resistantMG 2.2
SC 3413NSeCanHigh yielding High proteinSCN resistantMG 1.6
OAC 11-02CHuron Commodities Inc.High yielding Manitoba and European markets MG 00
SeCan 14-11CSeCanHigh yielding High protein MG 0.7
SeCan 14-21C-SCNSeCanHigh yieldingHigh protein MG 1
SC 7415NSeCanHigh yielding High protein SCN resistant MG 1.8
SC 8415NSeCanHigh yielding High proteinSCN resistant MG 2.4
SC 8515NSeCanHigh yieldingHigh protein SCN resistant MG 2.3
SVX 16T0G1Sevita InternationalHigh yielding High protein MG 0.1
OAC StriveSeCan    High yieldingEarly maturityHigher than normal protein levelsImperfect yellow hilum Food grade cultivarMG 0.4
OAC ProsperSeCanHigh yieldingSCN resistantLarge seed sizeIncreased proteinYellow hilumFood grade varietyMG 1.8
NeptuneSevita InternationalHigh yielding IY hilumMG 0.8
FactorSevita InternationalHigh yielding Grey hilumSlightly higher protein than averageMG 0.7
OAC MordenHuron Commodities Inc.High yielding – especially in ManitobaLight Buff hilumMG 00
OAC EveSeCanHigh yielding IY hilumMG 1
OAC DurhamSeCanHigh yielding Yellow hilumMG 0.8
OAC PrescottSeCanVery high yielding Grey hilumMG 0.7
DS143C0 (OAC 10-20C)Dow AgroSciencesVery high yielding MG 0
OAC Challenger R2 High yielding RR2Y The only RR2Y soybean cultivar developed by a public breeding program in CanadaMG 0
TN-G1 (exp. name) OAC 12-109C-NattTakano FoodsHigh yielding Natto cultivarMG 0.6
OAC Adare (SeCan 12-82C)SeCanHigh yieldingHigh protein MG 1.2
TN-G3 (OAC 14-46C-Nat)Takano FoodsHigh yielding Natto cultivarMG 0
TN-G2 (OAC 12-116C-Tof)Takano FoodsHigh yielding Tofu cultivarMG 1
OAC EvolutionSeCanHigh yielding High protein MG 0
SC 5714NSeCanHigh yielding High protein SCN resistant MG 1.8
SC 6014NSeCanHigh yielding High protein SCN resistant MG 2.3
SVX 16T0G4Sevita InternationalHigh yieldingHigh protein MG 0.4

Many of the conventional soybean varieties were bred for food markets. Small seed varieties were bred for natto soybean production. Specific soybean varieties were developed for miso food production, including higher sucrose levels. Larger seed and higher protein varieties were developed for tofu production. Varieties were tested for suitability in their target food markets and the results of these tests were presented to international buyers, supporting the export market for Canadian food grade soybeans. Many of the commercial varieties released throughout the five-year project also delivered higher yields. The continuous improvement in food grade soybean genetics is a significant market driver, benefiting Canadian growers, seed companies, transportation providers and export companies.   

Genetic diversification

This project was one of a few soybean breeding programs introducing exotic germplasm (unadapted genetics from a different country or growing region). The exotic germplasm incorporated into the project was from China, the centre of origin and diversity for soybean into domestic soybean varieties, which addressed the narrowing of soybean genetic diversity in Canada. Results are promising and experimental lines developed from hybridization using elite Chinese and Canadian parents are in the final stages of testing. The genetic crosses made to address traits such as increased yield, high protein content and quality, improved disease resistance and higher oil content.

SCN resistance

As SCN continues to spread, the importance of breeding SCN-resistant varieties continues to grow. This research project focused on breeding resistant varieties for new areas with SCN infestation in Ontario and Quebec, with Manitoba likely being the next target in the future. Approximately 230 genetic crosses were made through the research project annually with roughly 66% of those crosses involving potential SCN resistance. Eight new SCN-resistant varieties were developed, and results continue with new material that is ‘in the pipeline’. These resistant varieties are vital for growers to be able to manage the disease before it appears.

Health benefits

Anti-cancer attributes have been identified in soy saponins. This research focused on identifying genes that affect the saturation and accumulation of the desirable Type B saponins in soybeans. The genetic makeup of Type B saponins were studied, including mapping the quantitative trait loci (QTL). The research project successfully identified QTL on three different chromosomes. The outcomes of this research will help soybean breeders select for higher Type B soy saponin in future crosses and breeding programs, which may impart anti-cancer and antioxidant attributes to soy foods.

Higher oil content

The fifth objective focused on increasing soybean oil content for desirable markets like edible oils and bioproducts. The average soybean oil concentration is 19%. Through the CFCRA program soybean varieties were developed with oil concentrations as high as 22-23%. While the increase in oil concentration is only a few percentage points, the increase can be significant to farmers who are growing for specific end-use products like edible oils or biodiesel production.  The new high oil varieties are in the process of commercialization and will be available to growers and the value-added industry.

Research training

The CFCRA funding allowed for the hiring of highly qualified personnel, including one graduate student and summer students throughout the five-year program. The graduate student focused on evaluating soy saponins, helping breeders to identify desirable genetic crosses and map the QTL of Type B soy saponins. Each summer student received training in all aspects of soybean breeding as they assisted the staff and technicians. The research project also benefited full-time staff and technicians who gained valuable experience while improving their skills and knowledge in soybean genetics and breeding.


More than 20 registered soybean varieties were developed, and Canadian soybean growers now have access to new and improved soybean varieties. This project also expanded research on Type B soy saponin for anti-cancer benefits. Opportunities for Canadian soybeans have also been expanded by the introduction of exotic germplasm from China to further increase yield and improve seed quality of Canadian soybeans.

External Funding Partners:

This research activity was part of the Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster led by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA).

Funding for this project was provided in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) AgriInnovation Program and in part by CFCRA members. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Related Publications:

Carter, A., Rajcan, I., Woodrow, L., Navabi, A., and M. Eskandari. 2017. Genotype, Environment, and Genotype by Environment Interaction for Seed Isoflavone Concentration in Soybean Grown in Soybean Cyst Nematode Infested and Non-Infested Environments. Field Crops Research. 216: 189-196.

Eskandari, M, Ablett, G.A., Rajcan, I., Fischer, D., and B.T Stirling. 2016. OAC Prosper soybean. Can. J. Plant Sci. 97: 337-339.

Eskandari, M, Ablett, G.A., Rajcan, I., Fischer, D., and B.T Stirling. 2016. Candor soybean.

Can. J. Plant Sci. 97: 390-392.

Eskandari, M, Ablett, G.A., Rajcan, I., Fischer, D., and B.T Stirling. 2016. OAC

Brooke soybean. Can. J. Plant Sci. 97: 199-201.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., and I. Rajcan. 2013. Using the Candidate Gene Approach for

Detecting Genes Underlying Seed Oil Concentration and Yield in Soybean. Theor. Appl.

Genet. 126:1839-1850.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., and I. Rajcan. 2013. Genetic control of soybean seed oil: II.

QTL and genes that increase oil concentration without decreasing protein or with

increased seed. Theor. Appl. Genet. 126: 1677-1687.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., and I. Rajcan. 2013. Genetic control of soybean seed oil: I.

QTL and genes associated with seed oil concentration in RIL populations derived from

crossing moderately high oil parents. Theor. Appl. Gen. 126: 483–495.

Gillman, J.D., Tetlow, A., Hagely, K., Boersma, J.G., Cardinal, A., Rajcan, I., and K. Bilyeu.

2014. Identification of the molecular genetic basis of the low palmitic acid seed oil trait in

soybean mutant line RG3 and association analysis of molecular markers with elevated

seed stearic acid and reduced seed palmitic acid. Molecular Breeding:  DOI


Grainger, C.M. and I. Rajcan. 2014. Characterization of the Genetic Changes in a Multi

Generational Pedigree of an Elite Canadian Soybean Cultivar. Theor. Appl. Genet. 127:


Hemingway, J., Eskandari, M., and I. Rajcan. 2015. Genetic and Environmental Effects on Fatty Acid Composition in Soybeans with Potential Use in Automotive Industry. Crop Science. 51: 1-11.

McNaughton, A. J.M., Shelp, B.J. and I. Rajcan. 2015. Impact of temperature on the expression of Kennedy Pathway genes in developing soybean seeds. Can. J. Plant Sci. 95: 87-101.

McVetty, PBE, Lukow, OM, Hall, LM, Rajcan, I, Rahman, H. 2016. Oilseeds in North

America. In Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd Edition, Wrigley, C., Corke, H.,

Seetharaman, K., Faubion, J. (Eds.), Volume 1, pp. 401-408. Elsevier Ltd.

Rossi, M.E., Orf, J.H., Liu, L.-J., Dong, Z., and I. Rajcan. 2013. Genetic basis of soybean

adaptation to North American vs. Asian mega-environments in two independent

populations from Canadian 3 Chinese crosses Theor. Appl. Gen. 126: 1809-1823.

Shaw, E.J., Kakuda, Y. and I. Rajcan. 2016. Effect of Genotype, Environment and

Genotype x Environment Interaction on Tocopherol Accumulation in Soybean Seed.

Crop Science. 56:40–50.