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Study identifies bean varieties immune to climate change

Some forecasts suggest bean production could be cut in half by 2050.

By Brooks Hays
Study identifies bean varieties immune to climate change
Dried beans. Photo by Maxim Godkin/Shutterstock

CALI, Colombia, March 25 (UPI) -- Will beans be around in 50 years? Or will they be global warming's first agricultural casualty? A new study has identified several varieties of beans that are best suited to survive coming decades.

It's widely forecasted that developing nations will some of the hardest hit by climate change. As the planet warms and weather systems are disrupted, researchers consider what will happen to crops in already vulnerable places.

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Recent climate models raised concerns that the production of beans -- a staple crop and vital source of protein for millions around the world, especially in Latin America and Africa -- could be wiped out by rising temperatures. Most bean plants are especially sensitive to heat.

In response to these fears, researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) began scouring their seed repository for bean varieties hardy and adaptable enough to thrive on a warming planet.

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Among 1,000 bean lineages, scientists identified 30 that could prove resistant to heat. Researchers tested the lines, proving their pollen could remain viable at temperatures four degrees higher than their normal "comfort zone."

Beans require cool nighttime temperatures, which is why most beans are grown at high elevations. But current climate trends and future models show that the high heat of coastal regions is slowly finding its way into the mountains.

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Some forecasts suggest bean production could be cut in half by 2050. But CIAT researchers say the introduction of these new 30 varieties can shrink projected losses to just 5 percent by 2050.

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Researchers recently published the list of heat-resistant varieties in a new report published by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.

"In some parts of Africa and Latin America, farmers adopting the heat beaters will actually be able to expand production on land where it's normally too hot for beans," Andy Jarvis, a climate change expert and policy director at CGIAR and CIAT, explained in a press release. "These lines represent a major breakthrough in buffering a vital protein source for the poor against the worst-case climate change scenario of a four-degree temperature rise."

Most of the 30 varieties were identified in previous projects aimed at developing bean lines that proved resistant to dry soil and drought.

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"As breeders we need to be thinking ten, twenty years ahead at least, to what's coming," Timothy Porch, a plant geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Scientific American. "The breeding work never ends, because the environment is continuously changing."

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