Although soybean seeds appear homogeneous, their composition (protein, oil and mineral concentrations) can vary significantly with the canopy position where they were produced. In studies with 10 cultivars grown over a 3-yr period, we found that seeds produced at the top of the canopy have higher concentrations of protein but less oil and lower concentrations of minerals such as Mg, Fe, and Cu compared to seeds produced at the bottom of the canopy. Among cultivars, mean protein concentration (average of different positions) correlated positively with mean concentrations of S, Zn and Fe, but not other minerals. Therefore, on a whole plant basis, the uptake and allocation of S, Zn and Fe to seeds correlated with the production and allocation of reduced N to seed protein; however, the reduced N and correlated minerals (S, Zn and Fe) showed different patterns of allocation among node positions. For example, while mean concentrations of protein and Fe correlated positively, the two parameters correlated negatively in terms of variation with canopy position. Altering the microenvironment within the soybean canopy by removing neighboring plants at flowering increased protein concentration in particular at lower node positions and thus altered the nodeposition gradient in protein (and oil) without altering the distribution of Mg, Fe and Cu, suggesting different underlying control mechanisms. Metabolomic analysis of developing seeds at different positions in the canopy suggests that availability of free asparagine may be a positive determinant of storage protein accumulation in seeds and may explain the increased protein accumulation in seeds produced at the top of the canopy. Our results establish node-position variation in seed constituents and provide a new experimental system to identify genes controlling key aspects of seed composition. In addition, our results provide an unexpected and simple approach to link agronomic practices to improve human nutrition and health in developing countries because food products produced from seeds at the bottom of the canopy contained higher Fe concentrations than products from the top of the canopy. Therefore, using seeds produced in the lower canopy for production of iron-rich soy foods for human consumption could be important when plants are the major source of protein and human diets can be chronically deficient in Fe and other minerals.
- Elemental composition