Functional foods

Because of increased health awareness in the public, there is a tremendous demand for functional foods that contain enhanced levels of phytochemicals that are beneficial for human health. In soybean, such phytochemicals are isoflavones, fatty acids, amino acids, phytic acids, phytoestrogens, gluco-sides and saponin glycosides. Isoflavones have been reported to have several health benefits such as in breast cancer, prostate cancer and cardiovascular diseases (Menon et al., 1998; Ji et al., 1999). There are three major groups of isoflavones in soybean - genistein, daidzein and glycitein - that have positive health effects. It has been reported that there is a genetic variation for this important phytochemical in soybean (Ding et al., 1995), and breeding objectives aim to increase the concentration of desirable isoflavones. To this end, the molecular breeding approach has also been applied by mapping the QTL associated with isoflavones and eventually adopting MAS (Primomo et al., 2005, 2006). Furthermore, similar work in detecting QTL associated with phytoestrogen (Kassem et al., 2004) has prompted the adoption of the MAS approach in improving this phytochemical in soybean seed. Other phytochemicals have yet to be characterized in detail and the health benefits realized. In the future, improvement in functional foods is likely to become one of the top objectives of soybean breeding programmes.

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