Common bean genome sequence to improve critical food crop
“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 important implications for world-wide efforts to improve beans” said McClean. “The sequence will help breeders release varieties that are competitive with other crops and more climate resilient.” The sequence revealed that disease resistance genes are highly clustered in the genome, knowledge that will lead to better breeding strategies to combat the many diseases that challenge the bean crop. Data from the study is being actively used by the many international bean breeders and geneticists to develop the next generation of molecular markers to aid bean breeding efforts.
From a global perspective, this information could be beneficial to farmers in developing countries that practice the intercropping system known as “milpa”, where beans, corn, and occasionally squash, are planted together. The historical practice ensures that their land can continue to produce high-yield crops without resorting to adding fertilizers or other chemical methods of providing nutrients to the soil. McClean noted that “Breeders and genomic scientists in these countries are already working with the international bean community to utilize this important new genetic resource to address the production constraints unique to the “milpa” system.”
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