Soybean discovered at the University of Guelph may have new industrial applications.

By Lilian Schaer

A soybean variety first identified at the University of Guelph 20 years ago might finally find use in industry.

Currently known as OAC 13-55C-HL, the soybean contains lots of linoleic fatty acids, useful in industrial material applications such as paints, coatings, polyols and epoxies.

Late U of G plant agriculture professor Gary Ablett, a renowned soybean breeder, discovered the variety two decades ago while he was working to develop soybeans yielding oil suited to the food industry. Market demand wasn’t strong enough then to warrant further investigation.

Ablett developed more than 50 soybean varieties before his death in 2010. He shared his discovery with U of G soybean researcher Prof. Istvan Rajcan, Plant Agriculture.

Working with the BioCar Initiative — a partnership between the automotive industry and researchers using plant-based ingredients to make car parts — Rajcan found that OAC 13-55C-HL might suit industrial uses.

“Nobody was interested in high linoleic at the time when Gary developed this variety, but he allowed me to study it further with my grad students,” says Rajcan. “We made crosses between Gary’s original variety and some high-yielding soy varieties so we could improve the yield as well as have the high linoleic oil profile.”

Oil from this soybean contains almost one-third more linoleic acid than commodity soybean oil. It’s also more reactive, which might improve production efficiency and material synthesis.

The new soybean variety presents a unique opportunity for the University of Guelph, according to Steve De Brabandere, interim director of the Catalyst Centre.

“Traditionally the bean breeding program at Guelph has been focused on soybean growing in Ontario, and there hasn’t been a lot of specific trait breeding for anything other than what farmers would need, like disease resistance, yield improvement or cold tolerance,” says De Brabandere.

With a small amount of oil now available for new product development, the team hopes to interest companies in testing applications. The researchers are working with Soy 20/20, a Guelph-based partnership of government, academia and industry developing markets in industry and food for Canadian soybeans.

“We’re seeing growth in the use of soybeans in paints and coatings, and the potential of this new high-linoleic oil for industrial applications is promising,” says Soy 20/20 CEO Jeff Schmalz. “It has the potential to be a better feedstock for existing bio-based products, as well as new product development, which bodes well for the future of Canada’s soybean industry.”

If early trials with the oil succeed, De Brabandere says, the team will consider partnering with a seed company for commercial production with farmers willing to grow the soybeans – maybe for the 2018 growing season.

Rajcan says the variety is still undergoing field trials to test its agronomic characteristics. Although its yield is lower than that of top soybeans, it could be an attractive option for farmers looking to grow a specialty soybean, he says.

“The real interest is in the industrial application and not for commodity production,” he says, adding the bean’s future will depend on results from early industrial product development trials.

The soybean breeding program at U of G receives funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the University of Guelph. The Ontario BioCar Initiative was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Soy 20/20 is supported by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, and by Grain Farmers of Ontario.