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Photo: P.H. Dorsett (second from right) and his Chinese interpreter Peter Liu on the trail. Link to photo information
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Read the magazine story to find out more.

Historic Photo Collection of Soybean Exploration Trip Featured at NAL

By Marcia Wood
June 27, 2003

An early 20th century soybean collecting expedition in Asia comes alive in a historic photo collection at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library. More than 1,000 prints documenting the expedition are preserved in paperboard or clothbound photo albums at the NAL in Beltsville, Md. A small collection of the prints is also available on the library's web site.

The expedition was made from 1929-31 by pioneering plant explorer Palemon Howard Dorsett and colleague William Joseph Morse. They were assigned to travel throughout the rural countryside of Japan, Korea and Manchurian China. Their goal: find and send home examples of rare, wild and cultivated soybeans, a crop that had captured the interest of American farmers.

The explorers brought back about 4,500 soybean specimens. Some of these plants had prized traits, such as resistance to harmful microbes that could otherwise devastate the crop.

Today, plants that are descendants of original specimens collected by Dorsett and Morse are still carefully maintained in genebanks of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief scientific research agency. Soybeans are the second-largest U.S. crop, worth more than $14 billion in 2002.

Dorsett, the expedition leader, was a senior plant explorer with USDA's Office of Seed and Plant Introduction in Washington, D.C. Morse, a soybean expert and junior member of the team, was also based in Washington, working with the USDA's Office of Forage Crops.

Researchers visiting the library can, by appointment, view the albums. Armchair travelers can conveniently read about the expedition and browse a selection of nearly 50 prints simply by logging onto the library's unique web site for the expedition. It's located on the web at:

http://www.nal.usda.gov/speccoll/findaids/dorsett

Read more about the research in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine.