Identifying genes involved in the domestication of the common bean, and comparing locally adapted domesticated bean groups (called landraces) to their wild counterparts throughout Mexico and South America will help researchers understand how beans evolved, and how modern breeding programs might be improved to yield tastier, more-easily harvested, and, yes, even more-nutrient-packed beans. It may also help scientists to develop bean varieties resistant to pests, or better able to grow in challenging environments.
The common bean originated from a wild bean population in Mexico, and shares a common ancestor with the soybean. In addition to its role as a critical food crop, it serves as a partner in a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to improve the soil in which it is planted.
"We're trying to understand what the common bean looked like before human intervention, to identify what occurred during early domestication and to apply that to modern bean breeding," said Schmutz. "Modern beans have been bred to fill specific expectations with regard to color, size and shape, and as a consequence have very little diversity. Studies such as this are necessary to identify genes that could be used to improve traits such as ease of harvest, flavor, yield and disease resistance."
Once genes are identified, they could be reintroduced into the population by selective breeding with wild populations, or careful breeding of existing landraces or even commercial beans. The Common Bean Coordinated Agricultural Project, or BeanCAP, launched in 2009 under the direction of study co-author McClean, is dedicated to the identification of gene markers that can be used in such breeding programs.
"The genome sequence has im
|Contact: Beth Pugh|
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology