Business & Policy
Mapping bean genome means new markets ahead
By Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Beans are considered the most important food legume in the world – high in protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates and vitamins. However, for all of their value, very little genomic information is available about dry beans. This information is necessary to do everything from making beans hardier and healthier to finding new uses for bean proteins. Scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are about to change that and in the process, they’re discovering a wealth of agricultural, health and business opportunities.
Working with universities in Guelph, London and Windsor and various bean industry partners, the scientists of the Applied Bean Genomics and Bioproducts Project are sequencing the entire bean genome – something that’s never been done before in Canada.
This sequence information will be used to develop molecular markers for:
- enhancing disease resistance in beans (specifically, resistance to common bacterial blight, a major disease of beans worldwide)
- promoting human health properties in beans such as cancer-fighting antioxidants
- creating bioproduct applications from dry bean proteins (for example, creating biodegradable, dissolvable pouches from bean proteins that can be used in packaging dry food)
Overall, this work will benefit farmers by minimizing crop losses through developing beans that are more disease resistant, as well as by increasing their profits through developing healthier beans for consumers and finding new bioproduct uses for beans.
It’s estimated that common bacterial blight can cause up to 40 per cent yield loss. Sequencing the dry bean genome will help scientists develop new tools that can significantly improve the efficiency of plant breeding efforts in developing new bean varieties with improved disease resistance; this is known to be the most environmentally friendly approach in controlling plant diseases and is expected to lead into economic benefits for the industry.
By studying the phenylpropanoid pathway in beans, scientists would be able to access many compounds that possess valuable nutraceutical properties. As beans are low in fat and a source of low glycemic index carbohydrates, increasing the levels of these antioxidants would make for greater consumer appeal.
Novel bioproduct applications promise to add exciting new opportunities on many levels. Bean protein-based films would be extracted from Phaseolus, which, unlike soybean or wheat proteins, are not allergenic. The films can be used to create different shapes for food packaging (e.g., dry soups, sugar, flavour packs), bandaging and capsule manufacturing, and will dissolve in boiling water. Derived from sustainable sources (culls of bean cleaning operations) and completely biodegradable, they are a safe, healthy, environmentally friendly option consumers will appreciate.