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Mark Westgate, Agronomy, (515) 294-9654
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University plant science faculty have developed a way to map how a soybean seed makes protein. They intend to use the findings to optimize nutrients found in soybeans that are used in livestock feed.

The researchers developed a metabolic mapping technique to apply to rapidly growing soybean seeds. The map allows scientists to track the flow of sucrose, an essential nutrient for the seeds, through the myriad chemical reactions that convert it into protein, which the seeds store until germination.

"This technique will enable scientists to determine how changes in genetics or environmental conditions can alter seed metabolism in favor of making more valuable products, like protein," said Mark Westgate, associate professor of agronomy.

The research is a cooperative effort between three Iowa State researchers. Westgate produced soybean lines and culturing methods for testing. Botany professor Martin Spalding and his team provided the metabolic "blueprint" for testing. Jaqueline Shanks, professor of chemical engineering, developed the computerized metabolic map to test soybean seeds. Shanks' team conducted the first experiment on seeds cultured in the laboratory.

"We were all amazed how well the map described how the seed converts sugars into protein," Westgate said.

Westgate said this research reveals which genes control the process in which soybean seeds make protein.

"Changing the genes in plants is one thing," Westgate said. "Making those changes work for you is quite another."

The research is funded by a $25,000 grant from the Iowa State University Plant Sciences Institute's competitive grants program. The program provides start-up funds to innovative projects with promising futures to stimulate excellence in plant science research.


Note to editors: A downloadable print-quality photo of the three researchers is at

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