New research for improving bean resistance to soil pathogens
CIAT will play a major role in a new US$1.9 million research project that aims to make the common bean more resistant to root rot – with the aid of the latest tools in plant pathology, genetics, and genomics.
The 4-year project funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will be led by Michigan State University and aims at improving the livelihoods of bean-producing smallholders in East Africa.
Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) is the most important grain legume worldwide. Originating in Latin America, it now provides food and income for more than 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is frequently referred to as the “poor man’s meat,” for its high protein content.
Root rot – the name for a complex of root diseases caused by fungi in the soil – is a major cause of low yields, exacerbated by difficult growing conditions like low soil fertility and the use of ammonium fertilizers. Climate change could make root rot an even greater problem, as heavier rainfall expected in the region brings about an imbalance between beneficial and root rot-causing micro-organisms in the soil.
The new project brings together several leading institutions in the USA and Africa in collaboration with CIAT. Together, they’ll develop and deliver root rot-resistant beans and provide advice and practices for managing infestations through the CIAT-supported Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA). Special efforts will be made to disseminate information on the new varieties to farmers via smart phones.
CIAT will test beans conserved in the genebank at its headquarters in Colombia to identify root rot-resistant materials. It will then use so-called “high-throughput phenotyping methods” – involving rapid and simple quantitative methods to understand plant growth and development. It will also use molecular markers – fragments of DNA associated with a certain location within the genome – to help identify to sources of root rot resistance, and these will be validated through close collaboration between CIAT and African partners.