Grass pea - sequencing the genome

Removing a deadly twist from a key insurance crop for the poorest of the poor

Photo by Peter Emmrich at the John Innes Centre

Lead researcher: Professor Levi Yant

In a collaboration with the John Innes Centre, ICARDA, ILRI and the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research, we have sequenced the genome of grass pea (Lathyrus sativus). Grass pea seeds are high in protein and have been a vital source of food and animal feed in times of scarcity for over 8,000 years. However, the presence of toxic anti-nutritional factors makes this crop both a blessing and a curse. We aim to remove those toxins.

Grass pea shows remarkable tolerance to environmental stress, including both drought and waterlogging, and requires little fertilizer. Only minimal input is needed to ensure a supply of food. These attributes make grass pea a critical ‘insurance crop’ for many farmers in the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean region and eastern Africa.  

The chief drawback of grass pea has been the presence of an anti-nutritional factor (β-ODAP). In conjunction with severe malnutrition, prolonged consumption of β-ODAP causes a neurological disorder, neurolathyrism, which results in permanent paralysis of the lower limbs in humans. This has led to bans on grass pea commerce, prompting underinvestment in research into this promising legume. The main thrust of grass pea research has been the elimination of β-ODAP from grass pea. 

We have led an Oxford Nanopore long-read-based genome improvement project. Our draft Grass Pea genome is available to access.

Funded by the John Innes Centre, BBSRC and the Future Food Beacon of Excellence



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