Hybrid beans from Colombia to Cambridge

18 Mar 2020
Helping breeders generate new ‘climate-ready’ varieties

NIAB is evaluating a set of Central and South American beans for traits of interest to breeders and farmers. The beans are all hybrids involving common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and/or its sister species, which have arisen naturally where the beans are grown.

These hybrids have been collected over a number of years and stored in carefully controlled conditions in the genebank of the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. Funded by the UK’s BBSRC, the project represents an exciting potential short-cut for breeders hoping to introduce novel traits of interest, such as pest and disease resistance, from these wild relatives into cultivated beans.

NIAB project leader, Dr Sarah Dyer said, “The common bean provides protein, micronutrients and complex carbohydrates for over 300 million people in the tropics. Climate change scenarios predict that heat, drought, pests and diseases will become major pressures on bean production in the future. This project will provide detailed information about these hybrids to identify potential parent lines that could be used by breeders developing disease or drought resistant varieties.”NIAB's Sarah Dyer investigating the P. coccineus at CIAT in Colombia

The NIAB team (Sarah Dyer, Jane Thomas and Tom Wood) have just returned from a trip to Colombia to see these beans being grown in one of CIAT’s experimental stations where special adaptations have been made to the mesh houses to ensure the valuable bean plants flower and produce enough seed for evaluating traits of interest. The CIAT team, led by Marcela Santaella and Peter Wenzl, are taking measurements to describe how the plants grow and the health and viability of the seeds are thoroughly checked before the beans are shipped to Cambridge in the UK.

Due to the difficulties in crossing distantly related plant species, the NIAB team will also perform crosses to cultivated beans to get a picture of how easy these plants are to work with for plant breeders, and will explore the genomes of the hybrid beans to understand how the different parental genomes combined together to produce these hybrids.

When the beans arrive in Cambridge they are grown in greenhouse conditions to mimic their natural environment and will be assessed for their responses to a set of fungal diseases. Characteristics associated with drought tolerance will also be measured.

Find out more information on the project’s website - Characterising hybrid beans - and check out the latest news and photos