Beans are a staple crop and primary protein source for millions of people around the world, but very little has been known about their domestication or nitrogen-fixing properties until now.

Recently, researchers sequenced and analyzed the genome of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, green beans, pole beans and others are varieties of the common bean.

“Unlocking the genetic makeup of the common bean is a tremendous achievement that will lead to future advances in feeding the world’s growing population through improved crop production,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “While we have much to learn about the application of genomics in agriculture, this study is groundbreaking. I applaud the work of this team of scientists and look forward to their continued work in this important area.”

The common bean ranks as the 10th most grown food crop worldwide. In addition to being an important source of protein and calories for millions of people, common bean is also important as an agricultural tool for its ability to fix nitrogen-poor soils.

Scott Jackson, director of the UGA Center for Applied Genetic Technologies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Dan Rokhsar of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Jeremy Schmutz of the DOE JGI and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Phil McClean of North Dakota State University led the team. Their work appeared in the June 8 issue of Nature Genetics.

“Improvement of common bean will require a more fundamental understanding of the genetic basis of how it responds to biotic and abiotic stresses,” the team concluded. “These findings provide information on regions of the genome that have been intensely selected either during domestication or early improvement and thus provide targets for future crop improvement efforts.”

The project was supported by the DOE Office of Science, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

All plants require nitrogen to thrive. However, many agricultural lands are deficient in nitrogen, leading farmers to rely on chemical fertilizers to supply the needed nutrient for their crops.