The Big Picture

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) crop is a valuable part of the diverse $33 billion agri-food industry in Ontario. Considered the nearly perfect food, beans are high in protein content and contain large amounts of fibre and complex carbohydrates, and are a source of cancer-fighting antioxidants and essential nutrients such as folate, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc. Globally, beans are considered to be the most important food legume with 18 million tons of beans harvested worldwide having an estimated economic value of US$11 billion.  In Ontario, beans are produced on more than 150,000 acres and are worth approximately $100M annually.

The Big Picture Diagram

However, for such an important agricultural crop, relatively little genomic data is available for dry bean genes from public databases.  For example, less than 100,000 nucleotide sequences are available for Phaseolus in GenBank. The lack of genomic information for the dry bean is a major anomaly for such an important crop species, and it represents a valuable opportunity for a co-ordinated Ontario-based genomics effort to have a major international impact. The Phaseolus Genomics project will therefore develop a draft genomic sequence for P. vulgaris, thereby substantially expanding the data available to bean researchers worldwide while putting Canadian researchers at the forefront of bean genomics.

The work will contribute to the reputation for innovation that the University of Guelph and Agriculture Agri-Food Canada bean breeding programs have for supplying new high yielding varieties to Ontario seed industries and bean producers.   The genomic sequence will be used to develop resources and tools for use in genomics-assisted bean breeding thereby accelerating the rate of genetic improvement in the crop. Using their extensive germplasm collections, breeding populations, recombinant inbred populations, markers sets and BAC libraries the bean breeding program will develop improved bean varieties with

  • enhanced natural disease resistance to bacterial blight, a major disease of bean throughout the world
  • an improved profile of health promoting nutrients, with a focus on secondary metabolites from the phenyl propanoid pathway
  • increased consumer appeal and
  • a modified seed storage-protein composition for use by the bioproducts industry in the development of industrial films and fibres

The project will also investigate the economic consequences of bio-product demand for dry beans.

In addition, personnel with skills that are required in today’s high-skill environment will receive excellent training in multiple procedures and analyses. They will become attractive employees for agri-food industries, producer groups, and policy-makers.  The project will engage today’s youth in plant biotechnology thereby ensuring that the skills and findings of this research are transferred, and interest in genomics research is stimulated.