Optimizing Nutrition – Scientists Sequence Faba Bean Genome

Various Faba Beans

Various faba beans (dried). Credit: University of Reading

Genetic studies provide a boost to the “Beans IN Toast” project.

The genome of the faba bean, which boasts a massive 13 billion bases, surpassing the human genome by fourfold, has finally been sequenced. The research was recently published in the journal Nature. This remarkable technical feat is of great importance for the goal of breeding beans with optimum nutritional content and sustainability of production. (Faba beans are commonly called fava beans or broad beans.)

A team of researchers from Europe and Australia, headed by the University of Reading in the UK, Aarhus University in Denmark, and the University of Helsinki in Finland, collaborated on this extensive sequencing effort.

The project to fully decode the genome went on to test out its usefulness by searching for genes involved in seed size. The team also looked at the color of the hilum – the scar left when a bean detaches from the pod – to see if they could find the genes that determine this distinctive feature.

Donal O'Sullivan

Professor Donal O’Sullivan pictured in a faba bean field trial with small plants. Credit: University of Reading

Professor Donal O’Sullivan led the University of Reading team. He said: “Having shown that we can quickly pinpoint genes controlling these visible seed traits, work is already underway to locate and identify precise genetic differences that control hidden seed characteristics that determine its nutritional value.”

“We want to produce beans that are higher in essential amino acids as well as lower in antinutrients, such as phytate, which binds micronutrients and reduces absorption. Having the genome sequence will accelerate this process considerably.”

Faba Beans (Dried) With Faba Bean Flour and Bread Fortified With Faba Bean

Faba beans (dried) with faba bean flour and bread fortified with faba bean. Credit: University of Reading

At the University of Reading, the enhanced prospects for nutritional improvement feeds into a project to increase the amount of UK-grown pulses consumed, by incorporating faba bean flour into the ever-popular British white loaf. The “Raising the Pulse” project is part of the publicly-funded UKRI Transforming UK Food Systems initiative and will benefit from what is essentially now a genetic toolkit for breeding lines with beneficial traits.

Faba beans are naturally high in protein, fiber, and iron – all nutrients that many people in the UK need more of. They grow well in the UK but are mostly fed to animals to produce meat and milk. At a time when plant-based diets are an attractive prospect for those wishing to look after their planet and their own health, it would make sense to go directly to the protein source: The humble faba bean.

Reference: “The giant diploid faba genome unlocks variation in a global protein crop” by Murukarthick Jayakodi, Agnieszka A. Golicz, Jonathan Kreplak, Lavinia I. Fechete, Deepti Angra, Petr Bednář, Elesandro Bornhofen, Hailin Zhang, Raphaël Boussageon, Sukhjiwan Kaur, Kwok Cheung, Jana Čížková, Heidrun Gundlach, Asis Hallab, Baptiste Imbert, Gabriel Keeble-Gagnère, Andrea Koblížková, Lucie Kobrlová, Petra Krejčí, Troels W. Mouritzen, Pavel Neumann, Marcin Nadzieja, Linda Kærgaard Nielsen, Petr Novák, Jihad Orabi, Sudharsan Padmarasu, Tom Robertson-Shersby-Harvie, Laura Ávila Robledillo, Andrea Schiemann, Jaakko Tanskanen, Petri Törönen, Ahmed O. Warsame, Alexander H. J. Wittenberg, Axel Himmelbach, Grégoire Aubert, Pierre-Emmanuel Courty, Jaroslav Doležel, Liisa U. Holm, Luc L. Janss, Hamid Khazaei, Jiří Macas, Martin Mascher, Petr Smýkal, Rod J. Snowdon, Nils Stein, Frederick L. Stoddard, Jens Stougaard, Nadim Tayeh, Ana M. Torres, Björn Usadel, Ingo Schubert, Donal Martin O’Sullivan, Alan H. Schulman and Stig Uggerhøj Andersen, 8 March 2023, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-05791-5

The study was funded by UK Research and Innovation.

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