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Diverse Team Assembles to Protect Iconic US Crop from Climate Change

By Benson Hill

July 22, 2019


Public-Private Consortium Leverages Benson Hill ’ AI-Driven Plant Biodiversity Engine to bolster soybean adaptation to changing environments

ST.LOUIS, MO and WASHINGTON, DC, —July 22, 2019 — In recognition of the crucial role soybeans play in U.S. agriculture, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $942,000 Seeding Solutions Grant to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), alongside scientific partners North Carolina State University and VIB (Institute for Biotechnology in Flanders, Belgium), to improve soybean crop resiliency. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from Benson Hill , BASF, and VIB for a total $1.89 million award.

“Our research demonstrates that the response of soybean protein content to temperature varies among different genetic varieties,” said Anna Locke, Ph.D. (USDA-ARS), the principal investigator of this project. “Using deep learning techniques, we can analyze the effects of weather variability on soybean yield and protein production and work to develop high protein varieties that can withstand the stresses associated with changing climates.”

Soybean is a complete source of protein that contains all the essential amino acids for human nutrition. Soy meal demand is projected to grow as animal and plant-based protein demand increases worldwide. This surge in demand is happening concurrently with global climate shifts and more frequent extreme weather conditions, including cold snaps and heatwaves. Extreme weather is devastating to soybean crop yields and nutritional content, making it imperative that researchers determine how to increase soybean resiliency in response to climate change.

Dr. Anna Locke and her team, including co-principal investigators of this project, Dr. Ive De Smet (VIB) and Dr. Ross Sozzani (NCSU) will use Benson Hill’s CropOS™ computational platform and suite of genomic tools to leverage the natural genetic diversity of plants and improve the sustainability, nutrition and flavor profiles of the soybean crop with greater precision than previously possible. Researchers will evaluate key temperature stress regulators, develop a test to rapidly screen soybean genotypes for enhanced resilience to temperature stress, and ultimately provide data that will allow crop breeders to identify new abiotic stress-tolerant soybean varieties more efficiently.

“Adapting food production to a changing climate is one of the most urgent challenges of our time,” said Matt Crisp, CEO and co-founder of Benson Hill. “We built CropOS to unlock the potential that exists within plants to face this challenge. Through data analytics, machine learning and a deep understanding of plant biology, our partners can leverage the genetic diversity of soybeans to optimize both nutrition and yield for different climatic conditions.”

FFAR leverages public and private resources and accelerates research innovation in sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. In October, Benson Hill joined FFAR’s Crops of the Future Collaborative Executive Committee and participated in the first grant, the Leafy Greens Research Project, to reduce food waste and chemical inputs for the $3 billion dollar lettuce crop.

“Soybean is a fundamentally important crop for consumers, farmers, and our U.S. economy,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., FFAR’s executive director. “FFAR is excited to support this groundbreaking research that will increase our understanding of the relationship between a soybean plant’s genetic makeup, its environment, and its performance.”

FFAR’s Seeding Solutions Grant is an open call for bold ideas that address a pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. USDA ARS’s research supports FFAR’s 2018 Protein Challenge Area, currently the Next Generation Crops Area. FFAR’s work in this area supports the advancement of novel, nutritious, profitable, and resilient farm crops.

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.
Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

About Benson Hill
Benson Hill empowers innovators with a revolutionary crop design platform to develop healthier and more sustainable food and ingredients. Our CropOS™ platform combines machine learning and big data with genome editing and plant biology to drastically accelerate and simplify the product development process. More information can be found online at www.bensonhillbio.com. Follow us on Twitter at @BensonHillBio.

 

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Benson Hill
Melanie Bernds
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