Scientists at the John Innes Centre have developed peas that will help animals absorb more protein from their diet.
The new peas will cut costs for farmers because less of the novel peas will give the same or higher nutritional benefit than standard peas.
Pea and other legume seeds contain several inhibitors that stop proteins being absorbed fully from the diet of humans, poultry and livestock. Professor Claire Domoney’s group at the John Innes Centre used non-GM methods to develop peas that don’t have these inhibitors.
As well as helping animals get more from feed, better protein digestion decreases the nitrogen content of livestock manure. Excess nitrogen in waste can pollute nearby watercourses.
Previous nutritional studies with broiler chickens have shown that high amounts of the inhibitors can reduce protein availability by up to 10%. Professor Domoney’s group will follow up their proof of concept study with feed nutritionists who will measure the difference the improved peas make to animal digestion.
The novel types of pea will offer advantage to UK breeders and growers targeting markets outside the UK, where the concentration of these inhibitors in seeds is measured not just for feed formulations but also as part of the registration process for new varieties.
The new peas are not expected to have a different taste, as the proteins that have been removed are not linked to the development of flavour. Neither are they expected to cost more than conventional peas that are currently available.
Breeders, including Limagrain and Wherry & Sons, are already showing interest in the new peas. As non-GM methods were used, Dr Domoney expects widespread adoption of the variant pea lines and that the novel peas could reach the market within five years.
Mr Peter Smith, Arable Crops Director at Wherry & Sons Ltd, said: ‘The value of genetics and targeted research in pulse crops aids the UK industry in achieving specific needs. The removal of inhibitors in peas is an example of one of many traits which should enable the industry to move forward with a nutritionally improved crop benefiting throughout the food chain. As pulses potentially become grown on a wider scale in the UK we must remain focused on producing a better product in comparison to imported pulses and protein crops.’
Professor Domoney said: ‘These inhibitors have been a long-standing problem in feed manufacture. The discovery of a wild pea, a Pisum elatius line which lacks a protein defined as an ‘anti-nutrient’, is a clear example of the value of diverse germplasm collections.
Being able to generate and/or discover genetic variation for traits of interest to growers is essential for improving crops. In our case, the wild pea mutant has been crossed readily with the cultivated species, Pisum sativum, providing a headstart for breeders.’
This research was funded by Defra Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, EU Grain Legumes Integrated Project and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The JIC pea germplasm collection is part-funded by Defra.