The market for soybeans as a protein source for humans is largely untapped, and is concentrated in developing countries.

That's according to a study under way at the University of Illinois' National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL).

"Our research indicates that many of the greatest opportunities for expanding the use of soy protein in human food will come in the world's developing nations," says Donna Fisher, a postdoctoral research associate at NSRL.

Today, protein-deficient diets prevent millions of people in those countries from reaching their full potential, she says.

As part of the study, researchers are working with the university's National Center for Supercomputer Applications to develop the Protein Consumption Dynamics System. That is a model that can provide soybean industry leaders with a better understanding of future protein needs throughout the world.

"This system directly relates population and income growth to regional protein needs," says Fisher. She mentions China, Africa and Asia among areas with significant potential for increased soy protein use.