British Engineer A Bean
September 4, 2013

The Brits Aim To Genetically Engineer Their Own Beans

[ Watch The Video: Scientists Developing British Baked Bean ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Essentially little more than navy beans covered in a tomato-based sauce, baked beans are one of the more popular foods in the British Isles. However, due to the UK's growing environment – the beans are grown outside the region and are mostly imported from Canada.

To rectify this disparity, researchers from the University of Warwick are using state-of-the-art genetic sequencing technology to figure out which traits are necessary for the beans to thrive during the UK growing season.

“The ultimate aim is to produce a navy bean which is less sensitive to cold soil in the spring, is resistant to common diseases that occur over the summer in the UK, and is also ready for harvest in early September,” said plant geneticist and project supervisor Eric Holub.

“A shortened growing season is most important as navy beans in the UK have to be harvested in September, when it is still dry, to avoid autumnal damp weather which causes them to discolor,” Holub added.

“Using next-generation DNA sequencing technologies, we will improve the ability of bean breeders to select new varieties by effectively providing a genetic roadmap for locating useful natural variation of desired genes in the bean genome."

"We hope in the near future to begin working in partnership with UK farmers to begin testing whether experimental lines are more suitable for bean production in British growing conditions.”

In the 1980s, UK researchers pursued a similar endeavor at the country’s National Vegetable Research Station, the forerunner of Warwick Crop Centre, where the new project is being carried out. While the previous research produced a foundation of genetic resources, the new effort is taking advantage of the latest genetic analysis tools and methods to examine the genomes of specific beans.

After creating a database of genome-wide variations among parent lines, the researchers plan to identify markers that will allow them to map genes controlling the specific, desired traits for a British navy bean, such as cold tolerance for seedlings, early maturity for harvest, and disease resistance. The team said this genetic map could be used to inform breeding programs for commercial UK farmers.

“Navy beans are a potentially viable rotational crop for UK farmers and we think that there could be great demand from consumers for a home-grown baked bean,” said Andrew Tock, project leader and PhD student at the university.

“In addition to the potential market value of locally produced navy beans, growers could stand to make agronomic gains from incorporating a nitrogen-fixing legume break crop into their rotations, which could promote soil renewal after repeated cereal and oilseed rape rotations,” he added.

“We eat hundreds of millions of cans of beans every year in the UK – they are cheap, tasty and are recognized as being part of a healthy diet."

The researchers noted that their genetic database could provide beneficial information to farmers in developing countries, where the common bean plays vital roles in food security and sustainable agricultural livelihoods.