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Scientists Seek Super Soybean to Help Global Food Shortage

Scientists Search for Super Soybean to Help Global Food Shortagei
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Elizabeth Lee
May 20, 2014 7:12 PM
According to the United Nations, the world’s population will increase by 34 percent by the middle of the century. Global food production needs to meet this increase. A recent study of soybeans, one of the major food crops and sources of protein, may be one step in helping solve the global food crisis though the power of computers. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Lee
According to the United Nations, the world’s population will increase by 34 percent by the middle of the century. Global food production needs to meet this increase. A recent study of soybeans, one of the major food crops and sources of protein, may be one step in helping solve the global food crisis though the power of computers.

The U.N. predicts food production must increase by 70 percent to meet the needs of a wealthier and more urban world population. The World Food Prize Foundation president and former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, Kenneth Quinn, calls it the greatest challenge in history.

“There’s going to be another 2 billion people on our planet between now and 2050 and how are we going to produce enough food for them to eat?” asked Quinn.

One solution is science. The study led by Darren Drewry of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is looking for a super soybean. A computer model can create a plant that can be more productive and reflects more light back into space to reduce global warming's effects, while using less water.

One plant with all these traits may be hard to find, but, with data from real soybean plants, a computer can redesign a plant with the traits through the arrangement of the leaves, their density and angle to the sun.

“That’s the real critical thing that we found here that some of these goals that we might have intuitively thought were mutually exclusive that we can’t increase productivity without increasing water use," said Drewry. "We find that there are changes to the architecture of modern soybean cultivars that can be made to help us improve on many of these goals.”

The next step is to take the computer’s model plant and test it in the field by artificial manipulation, says University of Illinois professor Stephen Long, speaking via Skype.
“One of the things the modeling predicted is that there’s too much leaf area so we’re actually removing leaves as the plant's growing to get a lower leaf area," said Long. "We’re also artificially modifying the angle of the leaves as well to reflect what the model predicted.”

If the plants in the field behave as predicted, scientists will look for soybean lines with specific traits and crossbreed them into the computer’s super soybean. Long said it is important to find solutions to the predicted global food shortage before it happens, because even if the super soybean can become reality, it will be another 20 years before the crop can appear in a farmer's field.

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by: charlie from: bremerton, washington
May 21, 2014 1:38 AM
As a side note most of the Roman Empire Army ate barley as a basic nutrient source and meat when they could get it. How hard is it to grow barley?

by: vic from: asheville
May 21, 2014 12:46 AM
This is insanity. The more food we make the more humans we make. We continue to make more food each year to feed the starving and what we are doing is creating more humans that we have to feed . We must stop food production and safely level the population gently . Look up food production and a population chart you will see that creating more food has continued to raise population. Please read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

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