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North Dakota State University Dry Edible Bean Project Profile

Dr. Juan Osorno has led the North Dakota State University Dry Edible Bean project since 2007. He works with eight market classes of dry edible beans: pinto, navy, black, dark red and light red kidneys, great northern, small reds and pinks. Osorno also works closely with Dr. Phil McClean, director of the Genomics and Bioinformatics program, who joined the Department of Plant Sciences in 1985. McClean and Osorno were instrumental in sequencing the common bean genome, and now work to utilize the mapped genome to improve common bean varieties worldwide.

May 8, 2018

Dry edible beans are an important crop because they supply important nutrition, improve soil quality and fertility through nitrogen fixation, and they are a valuable cash crop for large and smallholder farmers worldwide.

North Dakota leads the U.S. in dry edible bean production with as much as 39%* of United States production. According to grower surveys and the United States Department of Agriculture/National Agriculture Statistics Service, North Dakota State University varieties account for almost 25% of the MN-DAK area planted pinto bean, 90% of planted black bean and 10% of planted navy bean acreage. Assuming average yields and prices, NDSU varieties likely contribute more than $90 million per year to the state’s economy and return approximately $375 for every dollar invested in the dry bean breeding program.

The history of the dry edible bean program in North Dakota is short compared to that of the entire U.S.  Dry edible beans were grown in the U.S. since the late 1900’s and the first dedicated U.S. dry bean breeding program started in 1906 at Michigan State University. However, the first NDSU dry edible bean breeder, Ken Grafton, was not hired until 1980. When Grafton became Director of the ND Agricultural Experiment Station and Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Science and Natural Resources in 2007, Juan Osorno was hired for the position. State dry bean acreage has increased from 200 thousand acres in 1962 to 675 thousand acres in 2016*.

Osorno works with eight market classes of dry edible beans: pinto, navy, black, dark red and light red kidneys, great northern, small reds and pinks. NDSU has released 17 varieties since 1981.

Osorno also works closely with Phil McClean, director of the Genomics and Bioinformatics program, who joined the Department of Plant Sciences in 1985.

McClean and Osorno were instrumental in sequencing the common bean genome, and now work to utilize the mapped genome to improve common bean varieties worldwide. Their research efforts across the U.S. and world include leading two large programs to identify and utilize genetic markers to breed improved dry edible bean varieties.

From 2009 to 2014, McClean and Osorno led the USDA/National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA) funded Common Bean Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP), which included researchers from six U.S. universities, including NDSU, and five USDA research facilities. They identified nearly 130,000 genetic markers, created extension outreach materials on the benefits of beans in a healthy diet, and recruited high school and undergraduate students to explore degrees in plant breeding.

McClean and Osorno were primary investigators in two United States Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative projects and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Legume Innovation Lab (LIL) program from 2013 to 2017. The key goals of the LIL research programs are to improve nutrition worldwide, especially in poor and undernourished countries, by increasing productivity of dry beans through research; to develop grain systems and value chains to benefit smallholder farms; and to improve dry bean research outcomes at agricultural universities in developing countries.

The first LIL project for McClean and Osorno was led by the University of Puerto Rico, titled Development and implementation of robust molecular markers and genetic improvement of common and tepary beans to increase grain legume production in Central America and Haiti. They were international collaborating scientists for the project and worked to improve bean cultivars in Central America and the Caribbean through increased disease and pest resistance, and tolerance to low soil fertility.

Another LIL project, Genetic improvement of Middle-American climbing beans for Guatemala, was led by NDSU, with Osorno as lead project investigator and McClean as a collaborating U.S. scientist. The goal of this project was to discover genetic diversity in climbing beans in the highlands of Guatemala through identification of genomic regions associated with important traits such as disease resistance and improved agronomic characteristics.

In addition to their research, Osorno and McClean teach courses at NDSU. Osorno teaches PLSC 315 Genetics and PLSC 790 Graduate Seminar. McClean teaches PLSC 411/611 Genomics, PLSC 721 Genomics Techniques and PLSC 731 Plant Molecular Genetics.

The NDSU Dry Edible Bean project personnel are research specialists Jody VanderWal and John Posch; postdoctoral research fellow Kristin Simons; and graduate students Katelynn Walter, Federico Velasquez, Edgar Escobar and Daniel Restrepo-Montoya. Carlos Maldonado and Luz de Maria Montejo D. completed M.S. degrees in December 2017.

The NDSU Genetics and Bioinformatics program includes research specialist Rian Lee, postdoctoral research fellow Atena Oladzad Abbasabadi and graduate student Lucy Mazaheri. Maria Gabriela Tobar Piñón completed a M.S. degree in December 2017.

Since 2014, researchers and students in the Dry Edible Bean and Genomics and Bioinformatics projects have received eight distinguished research awards from state, national and international groups (see links below to articles on NDSU Plant Sciences website).  In addition, at least one student working with Osorno completes a M.S. or Ph.D. degree every year and goes on to continue important plant breeding and genomic research worldwide.  Here is a summary of graduate student research in both programs.

Edgar Escobar

Edgar Escobar is starting his M.S. thesis research, Genetic Improvement of Dry Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris L.) for Resistance to White Mold (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum Lib de Bary) Using a Magic Population.  He will be screening lines developed from an eight-founders MAGIC population with white mold and developing markers for Marker-Assisted Breeding.

Escobar is from Guatemala and received his undergraduate degree from EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda) University in Costa Rica.

Lucy Mazaheri

Lucy Mazaheri is completing her M.S. research, Development of a Molecular Marker to Track APA Introgression in Common Bean for Bruchid Resistance, which resulted in the development of a marker from wild Phaseolus acutifolius into Phaseolus vulgaris. She will complete her degree in spring 2018 and plans to continue school to become a genetic counselor.

Mazaheri completed a B.S. in biotechnology at NDSU and is the granddaughter of former NDSU Dean of Agriculture and Director of the ND Agricultural Experiment Station, H. Roald Lund.

Carlos Raul Maldonado Mota

Carlos Raul Maldonado Mota completed his M.S. degree in December 2017. The title of his thesis is Identification of New Sources of Resistance to Anthracnose in Climbing Bean Germplasm from Guatemala. Maldonado Mota examined climbing beans from Guatemala for resistance to anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum lindemuthianum. He identified six races of C. lindemuthianum Guatemala Highlands germplasm and identified genomic regions for resistance to C. lindemuthianum race 73, which is the predominant race in the United States. 

Maldonado Mota is from Guatemala, and received his undergraduate degree in Agriculture from the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. He returned to Guatemala to work for the Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA).

Luz de Maria Montejo D.

Luz de Maria Montejo D. completed her M.S. thesis, Rust Resistance in the Guatemalan Climbing Bean Germplasm Collection, in July 2017. She identified the genomic regions on climbing beans associated with rust resistance using a genome-wide association study. The identified resistant germplasm accessions will be useful as prospective parents to reduce seed yield loss and improve bean cultivars in Guatemala.

She received a B.S in Agronomy from Zamorano University, Honduras. She is working in Guatemala and planning to pursue a Ph.D.

Maria Gabriela Tobar Piñón

Maria Gabriela Tobar Piñón completed her M.S. degree in December 2017. The title of her thesis is Genetic Diversity of the Guatemalan Climbing Bean Collections. Her research confirmed the existence of race Guatemala in the Middle American genepool of common bean, and the usefulness of climbing bean collections for the discovery of candidate genes for important traits.

Originally from Guatemala, Tobar Piñón graduated from Zamorano University, Honduras, with a B.S. in Food Sciences. She will return to Guatemala to work in a genomics lab.

Daniel Restrepo-Montoya

Daniel Restrepo-Montoya is a Fulbright Scholar pursuing a Ph.D. in Genomics and Bioinformatics. McClean and Osorno co-advise him. His work is computational and statistical in the field of comparative genomics.  He has competed a detailed genetic catalog of plasma membrane proteins in 10 species of dicots, which will help further in research for plant disease resistance. He will continue his research by looking for similarities among related and similar legume species such as common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris).

Restrepo-Montoya, from Colombia, completed a B.S in Biology and a M.S. in Computer Science. His thesis is titled Computational Identification, Phylogenetic and Synteny Analysis of Wall-Associated Receptor-Like Kinases “RLK” and Receptor-Like Proteins “RLP” in Legumes. He will return to Colombia to apply and share the knowledge he acquired at NDSU.

Federico Velasquez Villegas

Federico Velasquez Villegas is working on M.S. research titled Waterlogging Tolerance in Wild Accessions of Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and Related Species. The main objective of his research is to compare genomic regions associated with waterlogging tolerance in wild bean accessions to domesticated beans and related species, in order to find evolutionary patterns of waterlogging tolerance.

Velasquez Villegas received an undergraduate degree from the University of Cauca in Popayán, Colombia and worked as a research assistant in a dry bean molecular laboratory before coming to NDSU.

Katelynn Walter

Katelynn Walter is working on a M.S. thesis titled Association studies on Pre-Germination Flooding Tolerance and Cell Wall Components Related to Plant Architecture in Dry Bean.  She screened a Middle-American Diversity panel for dry bean for pre-germination flooding tolerance and analyzed cultivars from a Durango Diversity Panel to determine whether cell wall components are related to plant architecture.

Walter completed a B.S. at Dickinson State University in North Dakota. She plans to graduate in May 2018.

In summary, it is clear that the dry edible bean breeding program at NDSU is busy. It is also good for North Dakota and the world, producing cutting edge research findings and educating future plant breeders and genomic and bioinformatics researchers needed to feed the increasing world population.


Author: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384,
Editor: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123,

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