Soybeans are native to China and the country holds a huge inventory of germplasm in the National Gene Bank at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

More than 23,000 different soybeans have been stored and evaluated based on morphological character, seed characters, seed nutrient quality, resistance to stress, resistance to disease and by DNA molecular markers. The storage unit maintains a temperature of -18 C and relative humidity of 50% so seed vigor is stable for at least 50 years.

With that much variety, there are many unusual soybeans. Most seeds are yellow, although others are black, green, brown and bicolor. And in addition to the ellipse shape American growers are used to, some of the soybeans are flat, others are round.

More importantly, some soybeans show high levels of oil, fat, methionine and cystine. Others have demonstrated drought resistance and soybean cyst nematode resistance.

"Many of the soybean lines collected throughout China could be very valuable to U.S. breeders and to breeders around the world," says Clemson University soybean specialist Jim Palmer.

(Zhanyou Xu, Ruzhen Chang, et al, Key Laboratory of Crop Germplasm & Biotechnology, Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Crop Germplasm Resources, Beijing, China)