Providing a heart-healthy and sustainable end-product is at the forefront of Vince Pantalone’s mind when he is making crosses to advance the genetic progeny of SOYLEIC varieties. His experience with oil quality projects has set the foundation for his 37-year career in soybean breeding.

Vince’s career began in 1986 at the University of Maryland under Bill Kenworthy. It was here that he obtained his master’s degree. After his work as an agricultural technician under Kenworthy, Vince went to North Carolina State University (NCSU) for his doctorate under the guidance of Joe Burton. It was under these advisors and mentors, like Rich Wilson with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), he was able to grow his passion for soybean breeding, specifically oil quality traits.

“I started my journey with the United Soybean Board (USB) oil projects when I was a post-doc in North Carolina. I worked as a co-principal investigator in 1998 when I became a faculty member at the University of Tennessee and worked on oil quality projects ever since,” said Vince. “The initial target was low-linolenic acid, then we shifted to mid-oleic, where I am a co-author on the first mid-oleic soybean germplasm registered with the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection.”

Though mid-oleic was the focus, there was still the “Holy Grail” soybean researchers were trying to find – high-oleic.

“When University of Missouri researchers, Kristin Bilyeu and Grover Shannon, discovered the high-oleic trait, we launched our resources into targeting this ‘Holy Grail’ of oil quality research,” recalls Vince. “The journey took more than 25 years.”

After the discovery of the high-oleic trait, the race was off, researchers began breeding in that trait to develop high-yielding SOYLEIC soybean varieties to launch commercially and provide farmers with an opportunity to sell their beans at a premium.

“Not only does this discovery benefit the farmer but it also benefits the consumers, these varieties provide a solution to the partially hydrogenated oil and trans fat issue for human health,” says Vince.

This issue with trans fats is based on the final ruling by the Food and Drug Administration that partially hydrogenated oil is no longer generally regarded as safe (GRAS) for the U.S. food supply and is banned from sale or use in any food products. This is an issue for soybean producers. Most vegetable oil is soybean oil and needs to be partially hydrogenated to prevent rancidity. However, with the research of breeders like Vince, this issue is a problem of the past.

“The discovery of SOYLEIC solves this problem, these soybeans do not have to be hydrogenated and have a superior oxidative stability for food and industrial uses, like oil and biodiesel – respectively,” said Vince.

It’s with traits like SOYLEIC that breeders and farmers alike are solving problems to meet the needs of a growing population – a growing population with growing dietary restrictions, growing concerns about food quality and growing questions about the people that produce it.

“Researchers are publishing their work in referred scientific articles, they are then sharing that work at field days, to professional organizations, commodity boards and others who are interested in the research we are doing,” said Vince.

People like Vince – people who care about the modern food system – are working to promote research and connect with farmers and consumers about the work they are doing in the lab and the field.

< Zenglu Li

Grover Shannon >