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Bean Breakthrough

The soybean, arguably the most useful plant product in the world, has officially joined the ranks of the genomically decoded. According to one of the scientists responsible, Henry Nguyen, a professor of plant sciences and the director of the MU-based National Center for Soybean Biotechnology, the achievement could usher in a new era for the already legendary legume.

Soybeans have been an important protein source for both people and livestock for centuries. More recently, soy has become a key component in industrial products such as solvents, adhesives, inks, lubricants and insulating foams. And that’s just the beginning. Millions of consumers cook with soybean oil. Soy and newsprint-based “biocomposites” are used as wood substitutes in furniture, flooring and counter tops. Many plastics are manufactured using soybeans. And, thanks in part to an enthusiastic endorsement by singer Willie Nelson, soy-based biodiesel has gained wide acceptance as a clean-burning alternative to petroleum-based fuels.

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