UNL bean plots part of global effort to improve crop

jbrehm2, September 16, 2011 | View original publication

UNL bean plots part of global effort to improve crop

After harvest, some of the dry edible beans from the plots at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center are bound for laboratories in Texas and Michigan.

It’s part of a program to improve worldwide dry bean production. Mapping beans’ gene sequence is one piece of the effort. Scientists also are comparing drought resistance, nutritional value and disease among hundreds of cultivars, present, past and in the process of development for the future.

Just before harvest, some of the UNL plots were inspected by UNL dry bean breeding specialist Carlos Urrea and one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top bean scientists.

Working with Urrea was Phillip N. Miklas of Prosser, Wash., research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. Miklas also is president of the Bean Improvement Cooperative, a voluntary and informal organization working for the exchange of information and materials for the improvement of bean production worldwide. Members include scientists, students, private organizations and lay people.

Miklas was at the Panhandle Center Sept. 12 with Urrea to inspect plots with more than 300 lines of dry edible beans involved in the BeanCAP project. CAP stands for Coordinated Agricultural Projects. One of BeanCAP’s goals is developing genomic tools and the genetic sequence for dry beans.

Miklas said several other major crops, such as rice and corn, have already been genetically sequenced, and now it’s dry beans’ turn.

Several factors are driving the increased interest in improving production of dry beans, Miklas said. More people are recognizing their health benefits, including high fiber, low fat, and several important nutrients. Some types of bean also help lower cholesterol. Dry beans also are on the lists of crops needing improvement for the Feed the Future Project, a U.S. government global hunger and food security initiative, Miklas said.

Miklas and Urrea were inspecting the plots for maturity stage and uniformity, yield potential and diseases.

After harvest, the 300-plus lines in the Scottsbluff plots will be tested for nutritional content and the effects of drought stress. Beans that were stressed will be compared with others that were fully watered. Seed will be tested in USDA-ARS laboratories at Baylor University and Michigan State University. The testing will measure iron and zinc content, and use genetic tools and sequencing to check for differences and determine which genes influence levels of these and other micronutrients.

Similar plots with many bean varieties are being grown in Colorado, North Dakota, Michigan and Puerto Rico, Miklas said. He noted that Urrea has the ability to screen all the beans in the Scottsbluff plots for diseases.

The 300-plus varieties represent U.S.-bred cultivars from the 1930s to new lines that haven’t yet been release for commercial production. The majority of the lines were bred in Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, Washington and Michigan. Some were bred in other states and Canada.

Studying many varieties that have been developed over a long period allows scientists to look at the U.S. breeding program over time, and whether it has made genetic gains in yield, Miklas said.