With the aid of a grant awarded to the biology department, a group of students will be given the opportunity to work towards making significant strides in soybean genetics testing beginning on March 1.
The grant, awarded to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, amounts to $ 150,000.
“There was a lot of competition for this grant. We have been awarded grants by the United Soybean Board before, so we have established credibility and proved that we have the capability of doing this research,” said Devinder Sandhu, associate professor of biology and head of the project.
Sandhu himself is a renowned plant geneticist and is well-known for the work he has done to improve soybean yield and quality. Along with other scientists from around the world, he sequenced the entire soybean genome in 2010.
In 2013, Sandhu’s research confirmed that “jumping genes” cause random mutations in soybean genes that result in undesirable traits.
The next step is to determine which genes control specific traits. This will allow researchers to manipulate the genes and develop high-yielding, disease-resistant and nutritionally superior soybean varieties with improved oil quality along with ideal protein and sugar content.
This is going to be tested on a large scale as 100,000 plants will be grown in a collaborating facility at Iowa State University. UWSP students will then use various genetic and molecular approaches to determine links between genes and characteristics. He estimates that this project will take around three years.
“We will use the results of this study to help farmers from all around the world produce better quality soybeans. That is always the main objective here. By helping the farmers, we can help the economy,” Sandhu said.
The United States leads the world in producing soybeans and soybeans are the second largest crop yield in Wisconsin. Therefore, it is important to stay competitive in the market with improved genetic traits of the crop.
UWSP is a central player in this effort which gives students here a unique opportunity.
“Experience in the lab is of great importance for students. I recommend that they get involved as soon as possible and do not put it off until their senior year,” Sandhu said.
“I am planning on going to physician assistant school, and research is huge advantage on my application. Schools are always looking for people who have something unique to offer other than just good grades,” said Taylor Atkinson, a junior research assistant majoring in biology.
Participating in research gives students the opportunity to showcase their work at national and international scientific meetings such as the Soy2014 conference in Minneapolis this upcoming August.
In addition, students also have the chance to publish their work in various scientific journals.
Callie Johnson, a senior research assistant majoring in biology, currently has a paper in review for Plant Science. Having a paper published in a scientific journal is not something that most undergraduate students can claim.
“Here on a small campus, we are not just lab rats for research projects. We actually steer the research in the right direction. That gives us an edge on competition for graduate school and future careers,” Johnson said.