Ag Notes

USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection


Eric Moody and crew planted the USDA Agricultural Research Service Soybean Germplasm Collection yield trials May 2, 2018, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

by Esther Peregrine, Assistant Soybean Curator - USDA-ARS

Germplasm is a collection of natural genetic diversity. The USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection housed at the University of Illinois is one of 30 germplasm repositories that are part of the National Plant Germplasm System.

There are five major divisions within our collection: North American varieties (1,400 private and publicly developed varieties), introduced soybeans (17,500 accessions from 90 countries), wild soybeans (1,100 accessions from 6 countries), wild perennial Glycine species (19 species, 1,200 accessions), and research lines (1,100 accessions). We have the responsibility for acquiring, conserving, evaluating and characterizing, documenting, and distributing this germplasm.

The USDA Soybean Germplasm is the largest soybean collection that distributes seed free of charge for research and education worldwide. More than 20,000 seed samples are sent each year to approximately 400 soybean scientists in 40 states and 25 foreign countries. Information about the collection can be found on the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System web site.

The seeds in the soybean collection come in a surprising array of colors, shapes and sizes, but visual diversity is only a small part of the genetic diversity in the collection. Soybeans in the collection can be grown from Canada all the way to the equator. The collection is the most important source for new genes for disease resistance and seed composition modification, and in recent years the source of new genes for high yield.

Less than 1% of the lines in our collection have made any contribution to the commercial soybean varieties grown in the U.S. so the collection remains a vast reservoir of unknown genetic diversity to be discovered and utilized to improve soybean varieties for the future.