Within the next 20 years world population is expected to reach eight billion - up from about six billion today. An ever-increasing population - and the need to boost prices - pushes researchers, processors and others to find new uses for soybeans.

The potential for this "miracle crop" is immense. Soybeans and their derivatives already provide everything from building materials to livestock feed and protein-rich foods for human consumption, and other new products are on the horizon.

One of the newest soy uses will perhaps present the biggest market opportunity yet - nutraceuticals. Simply put, these are foods, or their ingredients, that provide medicinal benefits.

"Natural food shoppers have always been aware of this connection and the importance of 'pharmafoods,' " says Peter Golbitz, president of Soyatech, Inc., publisher of the Soya & Oilseed Bluebook.

"Mainstream consumers are just now becoming aware of this, as more mainstream food companies introduce these new 'functional' foods," Golbitz notes.

Martin Andreas, senior vice president at Archer Daniels Midland, agrees: "The 'miracle bean' will in many cases come to be looked upon as a source of medicine," he says.

Soybeans are often talked about in terms of their protein and oil content. But they also have other useful components - lecithin, glycerol and sterols, to name a few.

"Additional steps will be taken in soy processing to break out more components of the soybean," Andreas predicts.