Characterization of Diversity in Traditional Northeastern Dry Bean Varieties and Potential for Genetic Improvement

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,932.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Michael Mazourek
Cornell University

Information Products


  • Vegetables: beans


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    This project seeks to increase the viability and profitability of dry bean production in the Northeast by aggregating and characterizing poorly understood genetic resources in traditional Northeastern bean varieties. Dry beans historically were an important crop for our region, and as a legume species are beneficial for low-input, diverse crop rotation systems. Growers and consumers are increasingly interested in traditional varieties for their culinary, visual and agronomic traits as well as their history. However, little research has been done on Northeastern traditional varieties and landraces, and inconsistent varietal quality hinders use of germplasm by growers as well as plant breeders. This project aims to characterize two important traditional bean varieties by “crowdsourcing” available germplasm, using genomic tools to evaluate intra-varietal diversity and population structure, and phenotyping and selecting superior strains using participatory methods in the field. This will facilitate adoption of improved strains by growers and seed producers in the short term, as well as the development of new dry bean varieties for the Northeast. By better characterizing germplasm that is culturally significant to our region, has superior culinary qualities, and sources of regional adaptation, this project is foundational in reviving niche-market dry bean production in the Northeast.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1) Assemble seedstocks of two traditional bean varieties (“Jacob’s Cattle” and “Calypso”) from 15 sources using regional seed companies and seed saver networks. These traditional varieties have been grown in the Northeast and throughout the United States for over 250 years. Our hypothesis is that decentralized cultivation of this landrace germplasm over many decades has led to regional adaptation and genetic divergence, creating a situation of low intra-population variation (i.e. within seed source) and high inter-population variation (i.e. between seed sources) within one culturally defined variety. This is supported by anecdotal evidence and variation in morphology.

    2) Characterize genetic variance of collected landrace germplasm vs. commercial dry bean cultivars and analyze population structure. We will test the hypothesis that intra-population variance of the “crowdsourced” landraces will be greater than in commercial cultivars. Interestingly, a similar study of wheat landraces in France demonstrated just this result (6). These assembled populations of bean land races will form the basis of future population improvement and breeding work. Increased genetic variation of a population allows greater genetic gain through selection, and potentially greater stability of performance across different environments and abiotic and biotic stressors.

    3) Evaluate agronomic traits of 10-plant progeny rows in a replicated field trial at the Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm. Progeny rows are a method of minimizing environmental effects on variation by evaluating a row of full-sib plants (harvested from the same self-pollinating plant), rather than evaluating traits in a single plant. These data will complement our genotypic data by demonstrating what selectable variation may be present in the population of landrace germplasm for traits relevant to growers. These traits include seedling vigor, growth habit, early maturity and yield.

    4) Conduct on-farm participatory selection and outreach with growers to select and improve diverse variety populations at collaborator site, Fedco Seeds. Fedco sells several traditional dry bean varieties, and has committed to hosting trial populations. This trial will take place at the farm of an experienced bean grower and long-time Fedco collaborator. These trials will serve as a “baby” site to the replicated trial at Cornell University, and will serve as the basis for a grower field day for dry bean growers and seed producers to observe the experimental population and select phenotypes of interest. This will serve to facilitate participatory methods of population improvement and begin the development of a regionally improved strain.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.