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Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster, Activity 4: Genetic improvement of soybeans for yield, disease resistance, and value-added seed components

Principal Investigator

Istvan Rajcan

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

This project is part of the $10.3 million Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster funded by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) through the Industry-Led Research and Development Stream of the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Start

April 2013

Project End

March 2018


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


  • The development and release to the seed industry of a number of highly productive and disease resistant soybean cultivars adapted to Ontario will allow farmers to remain competitive in the non-GM soybean global market.
  • The introduction of genetic diversity to Canadian soybeans by hybridizing elite Canadian cultivars with elite Chinese cultivars will offset the danger of narrow genetic variation in Canadian soybean.
  • The development of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistant soybean cultivars will allow farmers to combat the rapid spread and economic damages that SCN poses to soybean production in Ontario.
  • The improved understanding of genetic control of soyasaponins as compounds with antioxidant and anti-cancerous attributes, naturally found in soybean seeds may lead to the development of healthy soyasaponin-enhanced soybean cultivars in the future.
  • The development of special use soybeans that can replace crude oil as a feedstock used for a number of industrial uses, including but not limited to automotive industry may lead to environmentally friendly industrial oils and allow Ontario to be competitive in the bioeconomy.

Scientific Summary

The world’s demand for soybean continues to increase on an annual basis. Many countries in the world are not self-sufficient in their soybean production and import significant amounts of soybeans to meet the high demand of their increasing populations. Similarly, most European countries import soybean from overseas as conventional, non-GM soybean for food use. Canadian soybeans are highly valued as a result of years of breeding effort, quality assurance and identity preserved production. Due to the narrow genetic base of North American soybean, it is imperative to increase the genetic variation to maintain the benefits from plant breeding enjoyed by the Canadian soybean growers by developing new high yielding soybean cultivars. Over the past 10 years, the University of Guelph’s soybean breeding program has been collaborating with several public institutions in China to identify and use new genes and alleles as sources of genetic variation for developing high yielding, high seed quality and disease resistant cultivars.

The University of Guelph’s soybean breeding program is one of the oldest soybean programs in Canada. Guelph is the only public soybean breeding program in Canada that covers the whole range of maturities grown in Canada and Guelph-developed varieties are grown in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and PEI. The main emphasis of the breeding program is to provide high yielding, disease and pest resistant food-grade and oilseed varieties. Guelph has been a world leader in developing fatty acid modifications that provide healthier and more stable oil and bioproduct opportunities for industrial purposes such as automotive industry. Food grade traits have also been a focus of the program with new varieties being developed for the tofu and miso industry. We have been working on nutraceutical traits to improve the quality of Canadian soybeans for traits relating to isoflavone, vitamin E and saponins.

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