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Less waste sugar, better soybeans.

Less Waste Sugar, Better Soybeans

Soybeans, already the nation's prime source of food oils and high-protein meal for feeds, could become even more valuable if researchers can change the way the beans themselves use energy.

The problem is that soybean plants don't concentrate solely on cranking out valuable oil and protein. They spend some of their energy making three unnecessary sugars that have practically no nutritional benefit, according to Tsung Min Kuo, a chemist at ARS' National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research.

These three waste sugars - raffinose, stachyose, and verbascose - account for up to 6 percent of the weight of the soybeans, says Kuo.

His research team hopes to help molecular biologists and plant breeders develop soybeans that will convert the natural ingredients that now go into making the sugars into nutrients for animals instead.

The search for a way to stop the unwanted sugars has reached far beyond soybeans. The Peoria scientists have studied the differences and similarities in accumulation of the sugars in a wide variety of seeds, including those of cotton, peanuts, pumpkins, and sunflowers.

Working with zucchini leaves, ARS chemist Patrick T. Smith has found a way to purify a key enzyme, galactinol synthase, that's used by zucchini plants in making raffinose sugars.

As researchers learn more about this enzyme from zucchini, their discoveries might help them work with different forms of the enzyme in soybeans.

"Eventually we might find some way to turn this enzyme off in soybeans or inactivate much of it during seed development," Smith says.

Kuo and Smith are trying to learn the sequence of amino acids that make up the enzyme. This effort lays the groundwork for finding the sequence of nucleic acids - gene building blocks - that determine which amino acid sequences occur.
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Title Annotation:researchers search for methods to reduce sugar production in soybeans
Author:Hardin, Ben
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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