Video transcript: British baked bean bid

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September 2013

Video shows field of navy bean plants

Andrew Tock, BBSRC Food Security Studentship
The navy bean is an important ingredient for the British diet. Many people in the UK rely on baked beans as a part of their 5 a day nutrition. As a country we consume about 1.7 million cans every day in the UK and in 2008, for example, when the credit crunch hit and volatile global food prices reached unprecedented levels, we saw sales of baked beans exceed £300M per year. But the key ingredients of the navy bean isn't currently grown in this country and so the UK consumer is entirely dependent on imports of this stable food crop.

Video shows Eric Holub and Edmond bean samples

Professor Eric Holub, University of Warwick Crop Centre
So the starting point for us is a variety that we have inherited called "Edmond". The scientists here at the National Vegetable Research Station had developed a variety specifically for UK growers and it had all the characteristics that canning companies require for processing, for cooking and flavour, looking properly in the can, but they needed to introduce disease resistance and the shorter growing season. And they were able to achieve something close to what was needed called "Edmond". So the point at which they stopped the research they had identified a brown seeded bean, which has some other characteristics, and they were beginning to introduce those new traits into Edmond, a shorter growing season and good yield, and they had some experimental lines which were looking promising.

Video shows bottle of Edmond beans in a laboratory

Our starting point is to actually evaluate those in the field to see 20 years later if those improvements are better than Edmond. And we are going into this with the intention of applying new methods of science involving molecular biology, which 20 years later could make the task of actually improving a bean much more straightforward and more rapid.

Andrew Tock
So the traits we are looking for are cold tolerance for seedling establishment in spring, resistant to halo blight, a disease that occurs worldwide, and early maturity so that the crop is ready for harvest in early September before the onset of autumnal rains.

Video shows pots of young bean plants in a glasshouse 

Professor Eric Holub
The process involves several generations so that takes time. If you were to use a glasshouse or poly tunnel you could probably do two or three generations in a year but at some point you need to test things in the field. As we go back to progeny and look for other variants, and how we actually think of ways to understand the genes themselves so we can improve our efficiency of actually finding that very unique bean that we are looking for. And that is where new methods of molecular biology come in where we can actually find the bean without having to grow it in the field, and if we can do that with large numbers we can more efficiently discard things and save what looks to be most valuable.

Andy Tock is funded by the BBSRC. This is our main source of funding for academic research and they are putting a large amount of investment into food security and the application of state of the art science to improve the ability of producing major crops.

Andrew Tock
An essential component of our project for example is applying the latest DNA sequencing technology with the ultimate aim of improving ability of breeders to select lines combing traits that are essential for low input production. In view of the importance of the common bean as a source of food and income throughout Africa and Latin America, the benefits of developing genome wide genetic markets, and beginning to map the genes controlling these traits, could extend beyond UK production. They can make valuable contributions to food security and sustainable agricultural livelihoods.