Common bean genome sequence to improve critical food crop
String bean, snap bean, haricot bean, and pinto and navy bean. These are just a few members of the common bean family — scientifically called Phaseolus vulgaris. These beans are critically important to the global food supply. They provide up to 15 percent of calories and 36 percent of daily protein for parts of Africa and the Americas and serve as a daily staple for hundreds of millions of people.
Now, an international collaboration of researchers, led by Jeremy Schmutz of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Phillip McClean, of North Dakota State University (NDSU) have sequenced and analyzed the genome of the common bean to begin to identify genes involved in critical traits such as size, flavor, disease resistance and drought tolerance. The study was funded by the US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the US Department of Energy Office of Science.
They learned that, unlike most other food crops, the common bean was domesticated twice by humans about 8,000 years ago — once in Mexico and once in South America — through the selection of largely non-overlapping, unique subsets of genes.
“We found very little overlap, and very little mixing, among the two domesticated populations,” said Jeremy Schmutz, who co-directs the HudsonAlpha Institute’s Genome Sequencing Center and serves as the Plant Program Leader for the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. “Evolutionarily, this makes the common bean very unique and interesting.”
Schmutz shares lead authorship of the current study, which was published on June 8 in Nature Genetics, with Phillip McClean, director of the genomics and bioinformatics program at NDSU. Scott Jackson, from the University of Georgia, is the senior author.
The HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center specializes in the production of reference plant genomes and genomic resources with a focus on improving agriculture and developing plant-based energy sources. In 2010, Schmutz led a team of researchers that used the Center’s unique facilities to be the first to sequence the genome of the soybean — another vital global crop.
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.
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