Background: The alteration of fatty acid profiles in soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] to improve soybean oil quality is an important and evolving theme in soybean research to meet nutritional needs and industrial criteria in the modern market. Soybean oil with elevated oleic acid is desirable because this monounsaturated fatty acid improves the nutrition and oxidative stability of the oil. Commodity soybean oil typically contains 20% oleic acid and the target for high oleic acid soybean oil is approximately 80% of the oil; previous conventional plant breeding research to raise the oleic acid level to just 50-60% of the oil was hindered by the genetic complexity and environmental instability of the trait. The objective of this work was to create the high oleic acid trait in soybeans by identifying and combining mutations in two delta-twelve fatty acid desaturase genes, FAD2-1A and FAD2-1B.
Results: Three polymorphisms found in the FAD2-1B alleles of two soybean lines resulted in missense mutations. For each of the two soybean lines, there was one unique amino acid change within a highly conserved region of the protein. The mutant FAD2-1B alleles were associated with an increase in oleic acid levels, although the FAD2-1B mutant alleles alone were not capable of producing a high oleic acid phenotype. When existing FAD2-1A mutations were combined with the novel mutant FAD2-1B alleles, a high oleic acid phenotype was recovered only for those lines which were homozygous for both of the mutant alleles.
Conclusions: We were able to produce conventional soybean lines with 80% oleic acid in the oil in two different ways, each requiring the contribution of only two genes. The high oleic acid soybean germplasm developed contained a desirable fatty acid profile, and it was stable in two production environments. The presumed causative sequence polymorphisms in the FAD2-1B alleles were developed into highly efficient molecular markers for tracking the mutant alleles. The resources described here for the creation of high oleic acid soybeans provide a framework to efficiently develop soybean varieties to meet changing market demands.