Agronomic Performance and Nitrogen Fixation of Heirloom and Conventional Dry Bean Varieties Under Low-Nitrogen Field Conditions

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Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) form a relationship with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia and through a process termed symbiotic nitrogen fixation (SNF) which provides them with a source of nitrogen. However, beans are considered poor nitrogen fixers, and modern production practices involve routine use of N fertilizer, which leads to the down-regulation of SNF. High-yielding, conventionally bred bean varieties are developed using conventional production practices and selection criteria, typically not including SNF efficiency, and may have lost this trait over decades of modern breeding. In contrast, heirloom bean genotypes were developed before the advent of modern production practices and may represent an underutilized pool of genetics which could be used to improve SNF. This study compared the SNF capacity under low-N field conditions, of collections of heirloom varieties with and conventionally bred dry bean varieties. The heirloom-conventional panel (HCP) consisted of 42 genotypes from various online seed retailers or from the University of Guelph Bean Breeding program seedbank. The HCP was genotyped using a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array to investigate genetic relatedness within the panel. Field trials were conducted at three locations in ON, Canada from 2014 to 2015 and various agronomic and seed composition traits were measured, including capacity for nitrogen fixation (using the natural abundance method to measure seed N isotope ratios). Significant variation for SNF was found in the panel. However, on average, heirloom genotypes did not fix significantly more nitrogen than conventionally bred varieties. However, five heirloom genotypes fixed >60% of their nitrogen from the atmosphere. Yield (kg ha-1) was not significantly different between heirloom and conventional genotypes, suggesting that incorporating heirloom genotypes into a modern breeding program would not negatively impact yield. Nitrogen fixation was significantly higher among Middle American genotypes than among Andean genotypes, confirming previous findings. The best nitrogen fixing line was Coco Sophie, a European heirloom white bean whose genetic makeup is admixed between the Andean and Middle American genepools. Heirloom genotypes represent a useful source of genetics to improve SNF in modern bean breeding.




Wilker, J., Navabi, A., Rajcan, I., Marsolais, F., Hill, B., Torkamaneh, D., & Pauls, K. P. (2019). Agronomic Performance and Nitrogen Fixation of Heirloom and Conventional Dry Bean Varieties Under Low-Nitrogen Field Conditions. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10.

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