Supporting soybean production with new resistant varieties

Michigan State University Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Professor Dechun Wang is focused on soybean research

Michigan State University Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Professor Dechun Wang is focused on soybean research

Soybeans are the second most harvested crop in Michigan, as well as the state’s top food export. They are a food staple for many in the world, and are also used in animal feed and to make biodiesel. 

It is the versatility of this protein-rich legume that continuously inspires Michigan State University Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Professor Dechun Wang.

Dechun Wang -5-1-2015“I always wanted to do work that impacts society,” said Wang, who received his Ph.D. from MSU in horticulture. “Soybean is a crop that I can work with to benefit society by solving real problems that are actually happening and support (Michigan’s soybean) industry.”

Wang’s plant breeding program focuses on preventing soybean disease, specifically white mold, root rot and sudden death syndrome.

“We consistently test our breeding lines to major diseases in Michigan and identify varieties that have good resistance levels and test well in various parts of the state,” he said. “We want to have good varieties with good resistance to improve the yield for Michigan farmers.”

The majority of the research is focused on Michigan’s production, with the bulk of funding coming from in-state sources, as well as from the United Soybean Board.

White mold is a major concern for Michigan’s soybean producers. The state’s cooler summers and high humidity lead to a higher concentration of white mold issues than many other U.S. producers. 

“White mold has been an issue since I came to this position (in 2001) and I have research to develop varieties resistant to that disease,” Wang said.

Wang has also developed pest resistant varieties, including "Sparta -- the Soybean Aphid Shield,” the trade name for the genetics he developed to combat soybean aphids. 

Although much of his work is within the state, Wang has projects across the globe through several collaborations, including in China and Uganda. Many of his disease and pest resistant varieties have been grown globally.

Dechun Wang copy
Dechun Wang

The project in Uganda revolved around a genetically modified trait in one of his varieties that gave them resistance to herbicides like Roundup. That resistance allows farmers to spray their fields with herbicides without damaging their crops.

Soybeans are a valuable food security crop across the world, with a protein content of over 35 percent. They contain healthy unsaturated fats and carbohydrate fibers, making them some of the healthiest food sources. They are also one of the least expensive sources of protein.  

Wang places enormous value on the partnerships he has with the USDA, other land-grant universities and international researchers. He said those collaborations are key to solving the ever-evolving and emerging diseases soybean breeders face. 

“(New disease) is a fairly frequent threat,” he said. “You never know what is coming in the future. It’s always a moving target for breeders and pathologists to work on diseases that are coming in the future.”

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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