Collecting dry bean root samples

Jennifer Trapp of the USDA (right) bundles bean plants as research technician April Hasse (left) and UNL dry bean breeding specialist Carlos Urrea (center) help gather bean plants.

A cooperative effort to gather data in developing drought-tolerant beans

By Dave Ostdiek
UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center

As another dry summer passes in western Nebraska, work is also progressing at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center in developing new varieties of drought-tolerant dry edible beans.

At the Center logoUNL Dry Bean Breeding Specialist Carlos Urrea is working with gene-mapping populations of dry beans at Scottsbluff and several other locations, in an effort to pinpoint the location of the specific genes that give bean plants the ability to tolerate dry spells.
Urrea has been working cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, introgressing exotic materials from Central and South America into gene-mapping populations at Scottsbluff and several other locations.

Part of the process is taking detailed measurements of morphological (structural) characteristics of plants in the gene-mapping plots. That is why Jennifer Trapp, a research associate for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Prosser Wash., and a Ph.D. student at Washington State University, recently traveled to the Panhandle Center.

Urrea, Trapp and research technicians spent several days collecting plant samples from the plots and performing extensive phenotyping – measuring morphological traits or characteristics. At this point in the growing season, they were comparing characteristics of the bean plants’ roots, such as the number of whorls, angle of secondary roots, number of tertiary roots, root rots, and number of nodules.

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Measuring and comparing the morphological characteristics of bean plants are (from left) research technicians Aaron Crawford and April Hasse; Jennifer Trapp of USDA; and UNL dry bean breeding specialist Carlos Urrea.

“Many genes play a role in drought tolerance, and we can look at different traits at different times,” Trapp explained.

Urrea began with more than 140 different drought-tolerant dry bean lines from a specific mapping population, comparing their development under conditions ranging from non-stressed to drought-stressed. It’s not practical to gather detailed data from all of those breeding lines, so Urrea and Trapp selected the 20 most- tolerant and 20 most-susceptible lines.

Trapp also collected plant samples in Washington, so the development of the bean lines can be compared across two different locations. Because of the interaction between environment and genetics, “looking at two different locations will help to identify a drought-tolerant line. What you want is to have the beans drought-tolerant in many locations.”

While Trapp was gathering data for the development of drought-tolerant bean lines, she also was inspecting plots that are involved in the Western Regional Bean Trial, involving Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho and Washington. The regional trial compares the performance of about 15 varieties of beans, including the recent UNL Great Northern release Coyne and four others from Nebraska, under different environments.