The University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture and researchers from six partner countries in East Africa have shown how to accelerate breeding of healthier and faster-cooking African common beans.
The study, recently published in The Plant Genome, used modern plant breeding methods to accelerate genetic gains by crossing among 358 common bean varieties.
This new method of breeding, known as “optimal contributions selection”, uses DNA information and algorithms to select which plants should be crossed, while at the same time maximising genetic diversity.
The researchers predicted that new varieties would have an average 12.4 per cent higher yield, 9.3 per cent faster cooking time, 6.9 per cent higher iron and 4.6 per cent higher zinc content than the parental lines.
The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L) is an important staple food in Africa to help alleviate malnutrition and anaemia.
However, traditional bean varieties have a long cooking time, which demands more fuel and is more expensive to cook than less nutritious grains.
Developing rapid cooking bean varieties biofortified in iron and zinc is a top priority for African bean breeders.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)-funded project is a partnership between East African bean breeding programs and supported on the ground by the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) through the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).
UWA Research Associate Dr Renu Saradadevi said the project had taken a significant step forward through the new genomic analysis applied to beans in Africa.
“Data from four years of African bean trials 2015 to 2018 were analysed by genomic methods and provided a very positive outlook for the future breeding of high-yielding and rapid-cooking common bean varieties biofortified with iron and zinc,” Dr Saradadevi said.
African project leader and bean breeder Dr Clare Mukankusi from the Alliance Bioversity International-CIAT and PABRA in Uganda said the successful breeding and promotion of new varieties from this ACIAR project would have significant and long-term benefits beyond nutrition.
“Women and children in Africa are exposed to greater health hazards due to smoke inhalation while cooking beans, and higher personal health and safety risks while collecting firewood or charcoal,” Dr Mukankusi said.
Australian project leader, The UWA Institute of Agriculture’s Professor Wallace Cowling, said the latest findings were made possible through collaboration with animal genetics and breeding experts at the University of New England, Australia.
“We have teamed up with professional animal breeding experts from UNE to train African colleagues to develop a new breeding method, which we call BRÍO,” Professor Cowling said.
“BRÍO is supported by ACIAR as a new and valuable breeding method to link African bean breeders in PABRA.”
Partner institutions in Africa include the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, Institut Des Sciences Agronomiques Du Burundi, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board.
Rosanna Candler (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) +61 08 6488 1650
Professor Wallace Cowling (The UWA Institute of Agriculture Associate Director) +61 8 6488 7979