Genes that Make a Better Bean
Jianxin Ma knows bean genes.
With nearly 20 years of expertise in plant genetics, Ma, professor of agronomy,
pinpoints the genes that control key traits such as plant architecture, yield components and disease resistance. While he admits to being easily smitten with any
kind of plant, he primarily studies soybeans, one of the most economically important crops in the U.S. and a plant grown by Asian farmers for millennia.
His work is a vital part of the College of Agriculture’s Plant Sciences Research
and Education Pipeline, providing the foundational genetic work that can then be
used by plant breeders to develop hardier, more nutritious crops.
“I hope our research findings will not only advance the field of knowledge, but
also be transferred into practical applications, developing high-yielding soybean
varieties with desirable traits for producers around the world,” says Ma, a professor of agronomy.
Plants weren’t on Ma’s radar as a student. Initially keen on studying physics and
electrical engineering, he was selected to study crop science at an agricultural
college. Within two years he’d become fascinated with plants, particularly their
genetics, and he completed a doctoral degree in plant genetics and breeding from
the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.
One of his latest discoveries is that a mutation in the gene GmHs1-1 causes the
tough seed coats of wild soybeans to become permeable. The mutation likely
occurred in soybeans about 5,000 years ago and was selected by Asian farmers,
an important step to domesticating soybeans from their hard-seeded relative
Understanding the genetic mechanism that controls seed permeability could help breeders develop better soybean varieties for
southern and tropical regions, enrich the crop’s genetic diversity and boost the calcium content and cooking quality of soybeans and
The finding could also give researchers better access to the largely untapped genetic diversity of wild soybeans to enrich cultivated
varieties, whose lack of genetic richness has curbed improvements in yields.
“We finally understand the genetic change that allowed the domestication of soybeans,” Ma says. “This discovery could help us
quickly pinpoint genes that control this trait in many other plants. We’re also excited about the potential applications for modifying
the calcium concentration in seed coats.”
Ma enjoys working with students to help them develop and apply critical thinking skills to complex questions and prepare for their
future careers. “I am excited to see them complete their study successfully and find a job that they like,” he says.
Calumet Finance Prof
Honored for Scholarship
Pat Obi, the White Lodging Professor of
Finance at Purdue University Calumet, has
received Calumet’s 2014-15 Outstanding
Faculty Award for scholarship.
Obi has authored more than 50 publications,
including the 2014 book, We Must Change the
Way We Live, an introspective outlook about
the value of education and financial prudence
in a changing world.
A 26-year veteran of the Calumet faculty,
Obi has been a frequent university source of
expertise on financial topics, and notably so
since the 2009 global financial crisis. He has
professional engagements in five continents
and has received numerous faculty awards for
“As a research professor, the Outstanding
Faculty Scholar Award means the world to
me,” Obi said. “It represents the ultimate
recognition that one can receive from
At the faculty convocation where he was
recognized, Obi dedicated the award to the
entire Purdue Calumet faculty. “It is their
support that enabled me to make the type of
scholarly contributions that resulted in this
recognition,” he said.