Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) is a hardy legume crop grown for food, feed and fodder.
Grass pea is remarkably tolerant to drought as well as flooding, and in times of weather extremes causing crop losses, grass pea often remains one of the most available foods and the cheapest source of protein, helping people survive during food shortages.
Grass pea is able to fix nitrogen from the air (through symbiosis with nodulating bacteria), can efficiently use soil phosphate through its mycorrhizal associations, can penetrate into hard, heavy soil and is relatively tolerant to pests and diseases.
However, despite its value for food and nutritional security, grass pea carries the stigma of a potentially dangerous food. Its seeds and leaves contain a neurotoxic compound that can cause a debilitating disease known as neurolathyrism.
The group’s project aims to develop this crop by breeding new varieties that are safe to consume, high-yielding, nutritious and resilient to environmental stress.
They have identified new low-toxin variants with lower neurotoxic compound contents than any existing varieties. In addition they have sequenced and assembled the grass pea genome.
The group believe that improved grass pea varieties can have a significant impact beyond the millions of people who already cultivate it in Africa and the Indian subcontinent today and it could become a crucial sustainable food source for many more.