Improving the productivity of the Andean bean

February 12, 2016

A study published in Crop Science shows that the Andean bean may have the potential to play a role in feeding a growing global population. Andean beans, such as the red kidney bean, are rich in essential protein, iron, and fiber. They also fix nitrogen into soil while growing, improving the soil for future crops. However, they have been overlooked because other beans were easier to breed. The goal of the current research was to improve the bean’s productivity in Africa where beans are a staple of diets.

To do this, the researchers studied the genetic diversity of Andean beans in order to identify potentially good parental lines for breeding programs. They started out by collecting 396 Andean bean samples from locations in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, and Ecuador. Then, they extracted DNA from the samples and analyzed the DNA looking for gene diversity.

From there, the researchers grew groups of Andean beans in various locations around the globe. In each location, they studied what characteristics the beans displayed and how the bean’s genes interacted with the environment. For example, in Tanzania researchers looked to see how well the beans grew in low-fertility soil. In the state of Washington, researchers studied how well the beans grew in drought conditions. In all, researchers grew beans in five different countries and studied eight different bean characteristics.

Information about Andean beans is now in a database, which will provide researchers the genetic information they need to breed better beans more suited to local conditions. For example, farmers struggle with low-fertility soil in east Africa, so scientists can use the database information to breed beans that will grow better in low-fertility areas.