Grass Pea: Remodeling an Ancient Insurance Crop for Climate Resilience



Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) is a hardy legume grown for food, feed, and fodder. It is an ancient crop which has been cultivated for more than 8000 years because of its tolerance of drought, flooding, salinity, and poor soils, its ability to fix nitrogen, and its seeds with high levels of protein. These traits make it an outstanding crop for ensuring nutritional security (particularly for protein) for resource-poor farmers, especially in the face of impending changes in climate. However, the presence of β-N-oxalyl-L-α,β-diaminopropionic acid (β-ODAP or ODAP), a neurotoxin present in the seeds and vegetative tissues of grass pea, has limited its breeding and modern-day cultivation. β-ODAP causes lathyrism, a paralysis of the lower limbs that occurs in epidemics in undernourished communities. This has resulted in grass pea being an “orphan crop” whose potential has not been fully realized due to lack of markets and research funding. The recent emphasis on climate smart crops has refocused attention on this very promising crop. Genomic resources and low-ODAP lines are being developed, and it is hoped that these will soon allow grass pea to reach its full potential as a resilient protein crop for food and nutritional security through sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change.


Lathyrus Protein Climate smart Food security Nutrition Genetic maps β-ODAP 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.John Innes Centre, Norwich Research ParkNorwichUK
  2. 2.Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute HubNairobiKenya
  3. 3.South Asia & China Program & Principal Food Legume Breeder, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)New DelhiIndia
  4. 4.Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingChina

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