CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — After 10 years of tedious, but ingenious research, a University of Illinois biologist has achieved a goal that will help feed the world’s hungry.
British-born Dr. Stephen Long was quite excited; he had just been interviewed by the Times of London and the BBC World Service. Long had achieved a 25% yield increase in soybeans by speeding up photosynthesis.
“The other exciting thing for us was that, although we got 25% more seed, the protein and oil content of the seed was unchanged, Long said. “So that meant 25% more protein, 25% more oil as well.”
Long’s contributions to genomic biology at the University of Illinois have been legendary. On the day the U.S. departed from the Paris Climate Agreement, Long said more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hurts soybean yields.
“Biotechnology, with breeding, it would be possible to overcome some of these problems, but if we are going to do that, we need to start now,” Long said. “We can’t wait for these changes to occur, have a loss in soybean yields, without starting to address this.
Finding that shade on a soybean leaf resets its photosynthesis back to square one, Long genetically eliminated its very slow response when light is available.
“The trait we are looking at is really dealing with just what is happening now,” Long said. “These leaves are going in and out of sun, they move in the wind, the sun goes behind clouds and so on. And what we did was to speed up their adjustment to those fluctuations in light.
In a hungry world, Long has just fed 25% more people.
“It would be very important, because UNFAO estimates we will need 60% more food by 2050. And if we can’t do that on the land we are already using, that means more tropical forest destruction, et cetera,” Long said. “And because this work is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, we also want to see that it could work in the tropics and potentially help soybean in Africa.”
Quite a legacy of Dr. Stephen Long.