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Changing the game of dry bean breeding

Canada’s dry bean breeding programs have been successful in developing cultivars that suit the needs of the country’s bean-growing regions.

Now, Dr. Valerio Hoyos-Villegas wants more — much more. He recently began a five-year project to look deep into the dry bean genome, locate previously inaccessible genetic material and use it for a big leap forward.

“This project brings innovation to the framework of how dry bean breeding is done,” said Hoyos-Villegas, Assistant Professor in Plant Breeding and Genetics at McGill University in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec. “We want to access genetic innovation, but the ability to maintain and generate novel genetic variations has limitations. Large regions of the genome remain locked to breeding programs.”

As Hoyos-Villegas explains, with new tools and information, breeders are starting to understand in more detail the mechanisms and patterns at work in the genome. By creating new and unique combinations, the reward for breeders and growers alike would be significant.

“If we can uncover new variations that haven’t been leveraged in the past, it could further the capacity of breeding programs,” Hoyos-Villegas said. “It could also ultimately result in a 12% increase in yield. This a big challenge. We’re trying to bring information that’s developed over many years – and use that to further improve the capacity of breeding programs. We’re reaching for the stars here.”