About the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network

The Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network (PCGIN) is a platform that serves the process of legume crop improvement in the UK. It;

  • Establishes the route by which scientific resources, results and knowledge are delivered to breeders, producers and end users, providing a link between these groups and the research base to achieve added value for pulse crops
  • Provides resources, expertise and understanding that are drawn upon by both public and commercial sectors in breeding, analysis, and in the definition and improvement of product quality relating to both commercial and public goods
  • Promotes and executes the translation of genomic research tools to crop improvement, consistent with both the needs of UK industry, and Defra objectives relating to sustainable agriculture
  • Provides links with, and involvement in, European pulse crop research programmes

Pulse crops and Defra policy objectives

In the current environmental, political and economic context it is clear that the energy efficiency of agriculture will become increasingly important.

Similarly greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will need to be minimised. Nitrogen fertiliser is a major energy demand in agriculture and its production, transport and use are major contributors to N2O emissions. Crop diversification and lowering inputs are major drivers for sustainable agricultural policy.

Pulse crops can contribute positively to these two policy goals because, as a consequence of biological nitrogen fixation, they require minimal inputs while acting as a very effective break crop in a cereal dominated rotation. Pulse crops therefore minimise the negative impact of both the application of nitrogen fertiliser and its production, through reducing the demand for nitrogen fertiliser for pulse and subsequent crops.

To achieve the benefits of pulse crops, legumes need to fit within farmers’ economic model.

A major cause of their limited contribution is farmers’ perception that these crops have erratic performance and that their end product value is variable.

Yield potential of pulse crops is high but average yields are about half of the best achieved, and even the best UK yields fall short of their potential by about 25%. There are many causes for this, but efforts to improve yield consistency through genetics and breeding have the potential to achieve an increase in pulse production in the UK. Thus there is a need to make legume crops more attractive to farmers, and to increase the market value of their product.

These two are the major strands of PCGIN activity.

The first is being addressed through the improvement of crop performance and reliability, by establishing the genetic basis for agronomic traits such as standing ability, yield and disease. This will address the major problems in growing pulse crops, as defined by breeders and growers.

Yield per se is a complex trait which, aside from the components attributable to plant architecture and disease, is likely to be genetically determined. Although commercial lines having greater resistance to lodging are available now for pea, there are no reliable genetic markers associated with this trait and the genetic complexity of the trait is not understood. Although genetic resistance markers have been defined for powdery mildew in pea, none has been described for downy mildew, a fungus that has a large impact in diminishing yield in pea and in faba bean. Additional disease problems exist for both pea and bean, although not all of these are a problem within the UK.

Pulse crops are also an efficient source of plant-derived protein for food and animal feed.

Increasing the market value of seed products will depend on genetic studies that define and underpin the traits that limit quality. For the high premium export markets available to pulse growers in the UK, visual traits are extremely important as quality determinants. Of these, colour stability can determine whether seeds reach export grade or are classified as lower value feed.

For animal feed, improved digestibility of seed components is an important goal in minimising eutrophicating waste, while improving animal performance. In faba bean, a major problem affecting quality (and yield) has been posed by bruchid beetle attack in recent years. This and additional problems in faba bean have highlighted the need for basic genetic toolkit development in this species.

Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network Objectives

  1. Trait biology, to understand the genetic control of key traits relevant to plant performance and seed quality

This will be based on detailed phenotypic analysis under field conditions of pea populations segregating for economically important breeder priority traits. A minimum of three traits will relate to plant agronomy, while seed quality traits will be scored in the crosses involving vining and marrowfat parents. Linking these traits to genetic maps as quantitative trait loci with adjacent marker and primer information will provide tools directly to breeding programmes. The outputs will have application to related pulse species, where markers may be transferred in consultation with stakeholders.

  • Objective 1.1 – To understand the genetic control of yield components traits using PCGIN RIL populations
  • Objective 1.2 – To generate RIL populations as a resource for the study of key traits in vining pea
  • Objective 1.3 – To understand the genetic control of key seed quality traits using PCGIN RIL populations
  1. Genetic mapping, to provide reference maps for marker analysis of the traits under investigation in 1, and additionally support the selection of lines carrying desired traits in the wide crosses established for pea; to build on international links and resources to provide for genetic mapping in faba bean for UK benefit
  • Objective 2.1 – To provide genetic maps for PCGIN RIL populations to underpin QTL analyses
  • Objective 2.2 – To provide for genetic marker development in pea
  • Objective 2.3 – To provide for genetic marker development in faba bean
  • Objective 2.4 – To provide updates on genetic marker development in lupin
  1. Genetic resources, to expand the available resources for pea and faba bean, exploiting collaborations with European platforms for pea, and international collections of faba bean
  • Objective 3.1 – To provide novel genetic resources for pea
  • Objective 3.1.1 – To obtain novel mutants associated with quality traits
  • Objective 3.1.2 – To obtain novel mutants associated with performance traits
  • Objective 3.1.3 – To generate NILs for QTL identified by areas 1 & 2
  • Objective 3.1.4 – To analyse fast neutron deletions affecting plant architecture
  • Objective 3.2 – To expand the genetic resources for faba bean in UK
  • Objective 3.2.1 – To establish faba bean inbred lines
  • Objective 3.2.2 – To provide phenotypic descriptors of faba bean lines and accessions
  • Objective 3.2.3 – To establish mapping populations for faba bean
  1. Management & communication, to provide for communication channels, based on established PCGIN communication networks with breeder and end-user communities, and exploiting EU and wider industrial connections
  • Objective 4.1 – To manage PCGIN in a responsive manner
  • Objective 4.1.1 – To establish related programmes of work
  • Objective 4.2 – To integrate PCGIN with international activities
  • Objective 4.3 – To disseminate and publish results