Soybean farmers soon will be one step closer to better drought-tolerant soybean varieties.

University of Missouri researchers will construct a comprehensive database of all proteins and metabolites in soybeans. Once compiled, the database will allow researchers to study changes in proteins and metabolites in soybeans grown under drought and other stressed conditions.

When combined with data from the recently released soybean genome, scientists will have a very powerful set of tools that will help breeders engineer better-performing soybean plants. The research project will be funded by a new three-year, $1.1 million grant awarded by the United Soybean Board.

“Using the analogy of a car, the genome represents a ‘parts list’ and the proteins and metabolites represent the ‘parts’ themselves,” said plant scientist Henry Nguyen, lead investigator on the USB project and director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology at MU.

“When the genome is complete, we will have the ‘parts list’. Now, we need to know how many of each part is needed, where they are located and how they contribute to the overall performance of the ‘car’.”

To assemble the parts, Nguyen and two of his fellow investigators in the MU Interdisciplinary Plant Group, Gary Stacey and Dong Xu, are combining their expertise in plant physiology, molecular genetics and computational biology to create a comprehensive database of all proteins and metabolites found in the soybean seed, leaf and roots. Once completed, the database will be available to the entire soybean community.

In addition, they will study how proteins and metabolites change in these tissues in response to drought and different pathogen attacks.

“Plants turn certain proteins and metabolites on or off or up or down in response to environmental cues,” said Nguyen, who also is an investigator in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. “For example, a soybean plant grown under drought conditions will send out a deeper root or increase root branching. These changes in the physical attributes of the plant arise from changes in proteins and metabolites.”

Nguyen and his colleagues said that the database will be used to create computerized soybean models that can predict changes in the physiology and biology of the plant under changing environmental conditions. Such models can then be used to engineer better performing varieties.

The USB is a farmer-led organization composed of 62 farmer-directors. The USB oversees the investments of the soybean check off on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers.