“To Bee or Not to Bee? Using Pollinators to Induce Soybean Hybrid Vigor”
Commercial soybean lines (Glycine max) are often inbred due to the plant’s propensity for self-pollination. This not only can reduce yield, but also creates opportunity for a disease epidemic. Modifying soybean flowers to be more attractive to pollinators may increase cross-pollination to create hybrids with increased yield and vigor. Commonly used soybean varieties often have white flowers due to a mutation in a gene involved in an anthocyanin pigment biosynthesis pathway. However, a wild soybean relative (Glycine soja) has an uninterrupted gene and produces purple flowers. This gene was used to create transgenic lines from a common cultivar, Williams 82, with flowers of varying degrees of purple. Using cage trials with the Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) dark purple flowers, which have a higher blue to red ratio, were found to be more attractive to the bees than the white flowers of a common cultivar when comparing initial flower choice. From the results of this study, initial flower color choice may be a better metric for the measurement of bee flower color preference than the total number of flowers of each color visited within a time period. The knowledge gained from this study will be used in the creation of a novel pollinator-driven hybrid soybean breeding system.
From this REU, I have learned many aspects of research that cannot typically be taught in a classroom. From designing experiments to troubleshooting problems, I have learned that research often does not turn out as expected, especially when working with living organisms such as bees. I have also experienced the inner workings of a research lab and the scientific community which has given me greater insight into what a career in this field would look like. This experience has also provided me with valuable knowledge that I can use when applying to graduate school.