UACES Facebook Division researchers identify alleles to improve soybean drought resistance
skip to main content

Division researchers identify alleles to improve soybean drought resistance

By Emily Thompson
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Oct. 12, 2018

Fast Facts:

  • Soybeans are among the most widely grown crops in the world
  • Drought causes soybean yield variation every year, projected to get worse with climate change
  • Alleles associated with slow canopy wilting show improved drought tolerance 

(408 words)
(Download this story in MS Word format here.)

LITTLE ROCK— Recent research conducted by University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture researchers has found genetic markers in soybeans that could help improve drought tolerance. 

Avjinder Kaler Picture

“Drought causes tremendous variability in soybean yield from year to year,” said Avjinder Kaler, post doctoral associate with the Division of Agriculture, the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences. “Every year, drought impacts soybean yield in some part of the U.S.” 

Kaler is working with Dr. Larry Purcell who is the lead scientist on this large regional project funded by the United Soybean Board. Purcell is the Altheimer Chair for soybean research with the Division of Agriculture. 

Soybean is one of the most widely grown crops in the world. Soybean production had over a $1.4 million economic impact in Arkansas in 2016, according to the 2017 Arkansas Agriculture Profile. Drought stress can lead to potential soybean yield loss in rain-fed areas. This variation in soybean yields due to drought is projected to get worse with global climate change.

“The goal of our research is to improve the drought tolerance in soybean using genomic and physiological mechanisms,” Kaler said.

The study, Genome-wide association mapping of canopy wilting in diverse soybean genotypes, used association mapping to locate alleles associated with slow canopy wilting. Slow canopy wilting is a trait that has been directly related to yield improvement under drought conditions. 

Slow canopy wilting also has a high heritability and is a relatively inexpensive trait for drought tolerance, Kaler said. 

Kaler said the alleles he has identified in his research associated with slow canopy wilting can help improve soybean drought tolerance by transferring those alleles to high-yielding, drought-sensitive cultivars using non-transgenic breeding methods. The breeding process is accelerated because molecular markers are used to identify the favorable alleles during the breeding process. The first crosses to move the slow-wilting alleles to a high-yield line were initiated this summer. 

Kaler’s began this research in 2013 for his PhD dissertation project. In addition to Dr. Kaler and Dr. Purcell, other investigators in the study include Jeffery Ray, USDA research geneticist; Jason Gillman, USDA research geneticist; Rusty Smith, USDA soybean breeder; Hussein Abdel-Haleem, USDA research geneticist; Felix Fritschi, University of Missouri crop scientist; William Schapaugh, soybean breeder at Kansas State University; Andy King, program director for Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

For more information about soybeans and drought tolerance, visit,


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

# # #


Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126