Long long ago, in a land far away… Jonathan Swift’s title character Lemuel Gulliver traveled to Brobdingnag. Gulliver relates a concept shared by the King:

And, he gave it for his Opinion, that whoever could make two Ears of Corn, or two blades of Grass to grow upon a Spot of Ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of Mankind, and do more essential Service to his Country than the whole Race of Politicians put together.

This particular quote from Gulliver’s Travels was displayed on the office wall of my first advisor at university, a soil scientist. It has stayed with me through all the intervening years.

Botanically, a pulse is a legume (such as a dry bean, a lentil, a lupine, or a field pea). Gregor Mendel of genetics fame used peas for his research. Mendel’s Pulse then may be another suitable name for this blog. But over the long arc of my career the humble soybean has been my muse. Technically, the FAO would brand the soybean as an oilseed. Peanut and sunflower seem more appropriate representatives of oil seeds to me. So I’ve taken it upon myself to rebrand soy as a pulse – at least for our considerations within this space.

Insofar as Charles Darwin has had an enormous influence on science by offering us his thoughts on evolution I’ve chosen WordPress’ Origin theme as a nod to his most famous tome.


  1. As a plant breeder, maybe you could CONVERT soybean into a pulse, by breeding for lower oil content. That would free energy to support increased nitrogen fixation and protein yield. Meanwhile, maize breeders could be breeding for lower protein. With C4 photosynthesis, maize doesn’t need much N for photosynthesis, so decreasing seed protein could dramatically reduce nitrogen-fertilizer needs. I presented this idea, inspired by Adam Smith, at the Crop Science meetings, but haven’t done enough analysis to see how much gain in landscape-scale food production we could expect.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Ford, thanks for stopping by.

      There already is a pretty wide range of seed oil content in the soy germplasm. There is also a very wide range of seed protein content as well. And if one is so inclined you can sum the two and consider the protein+oil level (P+O). As the protein and oil content are negatively correlated the range of P+O does not vary as widely as either of the two components. But I think these elements of the Glycine max story fall outside the human tendency to label things. The FAO definition for oilseed vs. pulse does not appear to me to PREVENT us considering soy a pulse… it is a grain legume just like lentil, pea, or bean. If anything soy seems to have less carbohydrate than the more commonly considered pulses.

      I should point out that the correlation between seed oil and seed protein content is tight but not absolute. Add to this the negative relationship between [P+O] and grain yield (because you have to make both protein and oil from carbs) and trying to make progress in grain yield gets more difficult… not impossible, just difficult.

      Your thought on changing maize to lower protein to save on N nutritional needs seems interesting. I know there has been a fair amount of N use efficiency work on maize, but am not familiar enough with it to know what the maize genome is capable of.

      Liked by 1 person

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