Need a gluten-free, soy-based muffin? No problem. The National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL) at the University of Illinois has you covered. They can also whip up new soymeal strategies for swine, figure out how to better nourish a developing country and solidify solutions for battling soybean diseases and insects.

“I think most farmers assume we coordinate different production research projects, and that's true. But in the last few years, we've broadened our scope further into food science and nutrition, international needs and animal science applications, as well as research and new soybean uses,” says Marilyn Nash, NSRL research specialist. “We operate along all levels of the soybean supply chain with basic and applied research.”

You won't necessarily find a lab with white-coat scientists either, adds Nash. NSRL has an administrative office and test kitchen, and has developed a network of associated researchers on campus in various locations — not just labs. Director Steve Pueppke oversees staff, students and scientists in 20 or more projects running simultaneously at any given time. Projects are funded by USDA, soybean checkoff and private companies.

NSRL coordinates 11 programs: the Illinois Center for Soy Foods, Varietal Information Program for Soybeans (VIPS), International Soybean Program (INTSOY), Soybean Disease Biotechnology Center (SDBC), StratSoy, SoySelect, SoySwine, Soy in Animal Nutrition Databases (SAND), Soybean Diseases and Pests (SDP), Soybean Germplasm and Breeding Initiative (GBI) and WISHH, the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health.

In addition to helping customers use more soy, NSRL helps farmers fine-tune production. NSRL research specialist Linda Kull says farmers provide input for checkoff dollars invested in programs that address Illinois needs. Farmers no longer choose projects through request for proposals (RFPs). They select projects in one of five categories known as managed research areas (MRAs). MRAs focus on germplasm and breeding, diseases and pests, soybean cyst nematode (SCN), weeds and Asian soybean rust.

“The MRA approach was developed so producers could come in early on in the process. Researchers provide feedback about programs, and manage each area as an unduplicated program. That translates into better, more practical results quickly,” she says.

In the germplasm and breeding area, for example, research is ongoing to improve yields, address disease issues and develop compositional traits. Similarly in the soybean diseases and pests area, researchers focus on fungal, bacterial, viral and insect problems.

“Efforts on diseases continue, including work on sudden death syndrome (SDS), soybean aphids, bean leaf beetle and emerging diseases like charcoal rot, root knot nematode and soybean rust,” says Kull. “MRAs are working with aphid-resistant germplasm, which is new and exciting. And the SCN MRA recently verified that identifying the specific HG type of SCN infesting a particular field and planting the highest-yielding varieties with appropriate resistance can help farmers preserve yield potential.”

Work with Asian soybean rust includes the Sentinel Plot System. The online resource at www.soybeanrust.org provides a place for reporting and viewing key timely updates on the disease. Kull says the USDA-funded program allows growers to document best management practices needed for risk management documentation for crop insurance.

These MRAs also tie in with VIPS — another online resource at www.vipsoybeans.org. VIPS offers unbiased data on soybean varieties from field trials conducted at multiple sites throughout Illinois over several years. Included in the comparisons are yield, protein and oil content and disease resistance data. Kull says while the results are from Illinois trials, farmers in surrounding states can find useful information about varieties.

Research completed at the federally funded SDBC also benefits farmers nationwide, and includes many types of basic and applied research. “SDBC has a huge program portfolio,” says Kull. “Research includes novel areas, such as microarray technology, which uses genetic material from a pathogen-infected plant and identifies genes expressed during infection. You can see what genes respond under many scenarios.”

For information about NSRL activities, visit the Web site at www.nsrl.uiuc.edu.