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A new take on legumes

Often overlooked by Europe's farmers, pulses are making a strong, nutritious comeback that could strongly improve both human and animal diets. Genetic research and advances are helping to re-energise this noble family of foods.
A new take on legumes
Grain legumes or pulses such as beans, lentils and peas can be important ingredients in animal feed, but are underused by European farmers due to inconsistency in yields. The EU-funded project 'New strategies to improve grain legumes for food and feed' (GRAIN Legumes) aimed to overcome this limitation through further research and encourage sustainable, healthy agriculture. It worked on developing genetic, genomic and bioinformatic tools to improve production and quality.

The project team drew on various disciplines such as agronomy, biochemistry, crop physiology, genomics, plant breeding and animal nutrition using cutting-edge research approaches in genomics, bioinformatics and metabolomics. The team began by improving knowledge on nutrition of legumes and particularly peas through laboratory testing to support health in poultry and pigs. In addition, GRAIN Legumes investigated processing to improve nutritional value of legume-based products through hydrothermal treatment, germination and air classification.

Another important achievement involved studying the economic and environmental impact of legume farming, looking to improve production through crop rotation in order to enhance crop benefits and minimise risks. Interestingly, the project found that European deficit in protein concentrates could be reduced by increased grain legume production in Europe, although this varied greatly from country to country.

An analysis of seed composition and quality unveiled traits that are important for nutrition through new genomics and metabolomics research. This allowed the project team to identify important genes that regulate seed development and composition in peas.

Through the study of Medicago truncatula, a model legume closely related to grain legumes, the team identified factors that affect seed composition and supply in grain legumes, particularly productivity.

Moreover, GRAIN Legumes produced novel genetic and genomic tools that enable better study and breeding of legumes including peas, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans and others. Project members ultimately built and populated several databases on the topic, facilitating research and comparative analyses.

GRAIN Legumes' research has contributed significantly to improved dissemination of data and has helped further the frontiers of legume production not only in Europe, but on a global scale as well.

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Agriculture - Food
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