The Beans that Will Survive Climate Change

by Abby Schantz 

Concerns about climate change are high on peoples’ minds around the globe, but not many consider the changes it is already beginning to cause in food production. Dan Charles of NPR discusses bean production in his article, “Meet the Cool Beans Designed To Beat Climate Change.” It is estimated that approximately 400 million people globally rely on beans for nourishment. This is problematic because most beans, including the common ones–pinto, black and kidney–cannot survive in temperatures that remain above 66 degrees throughout the night. A Colombian scientist, Alvaro Mejia-Jimenez was intrigued by a bean indigenous to communities in the American Southwest, the tepary bean. Though this bean is not widely planted anymore due to its small size and the few produced per plant, it has a remarkable ability to survive through both heat and drought. Mejia-Jimenez set out to combine the genetic traits of the tepary bean with those of common beans. He fertilized the flower of a common bean using pollen taken from a tepary bean plant, forming an embryo, then removed the embryo and raised it in a laboratory dish. Through several generations of cross-breeding, he created seeds with the combined genetics traits of both beans. His work went unnoticed until the problems of climate change began to become more prevalent. The Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research researched how the rising temperatures would likely affect bean production. They found a potential loss of 50% crop area in one generation, by mid-century. This gave Mejia-Jimenez’s work a practical application. The Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) began testing more varieties of the genetic combination and experimentally planting the beans to see results. In Nicaragua, farmers planting these beans produced twice the quantity of farmers planting the common beans, showing just how great the temperature limitations already are. CIAT is continuing to experiment with other bean varieties and plans to make the variations available globally.

Charles, D., 2015. Meet The Cool Beans Designed To Beat Climate Change. NPR, March 25th, 2015.



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