Dr Peter Emmrich

Group Leader John Innes Foundation Fellow Molecules from Nature

Peter works on grass pea (Lathyrus sativus), an ancient food crop with remarkable tolerance to drought and flooding.

These characteristics makes the crop highly valuable for enhancing food security in areas prone to such weather extremes, especially in the face of a changing climate.

Lathyrus sativus is currently cultivated primarily in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The primary limitation of grass pea is that it produces a toxin – beta-L-ODAP – that can cause paralysis if consumed excessively during an extended period of undernourishment.

Grass pea is safe to eat as part of a normal diet. However, because the crop can survive weather extremes that would cause other crops to fail, people sometimes rely on grass pea as a staple food to stave off starvation. This puts them at risk of toxicity.

The focus of his work is to remove this toxin and to develop safe varieties of grass pea, using a variety of traditional and modern breeding tools. To this end, Peter collaborates with researchers in North and East Africa, in South Asia and in Australia, as part of the UPGRADE project and other collaborations.

Beyond foundational plant science, Peter is interested in how farmers perceive the risks and benefits associated with grass pea, how they make choices and how their preferences and knowledge can be used to make our research more impactful.

Peter is a John Innes Foundation Fellow at the Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development, where he works to bring together crop research with development and climate science to help farmers in low- and middle-income countries make their farms more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate stress. This includes work on grass pea farming using methods of social sciences as well as other projects.