(CORDIS) — Beans, peas and lentils, collectively known as legumes, offer humans and animals a rich source of protein. But in spite of their many benefits, their cultivation in Europe has been constantly decreasing over the last 40 years. We are importing around 70% of our requirements in protein-rich products used for feeds, and this will have an increasing geopolitical importance as world protein prices continue to soar.
The LEGATO (‘LEGumes for the Agriculture of Tomorrow’) project, which will kick off in early March, aims to address this issue by improving the competitiveness of European legumes and increase the sustainable reintroduction of grain legumes in our cropping systems.
Bringing together 17 research institutions and 10 companies or professional associations from 12 European countries, LEGATO will focus on breeding and management methods for the principal grain legumes or pulses grown in Europe, the pea and faba bean. Ther work is utimately expected to allow for more legume crops in Europe, where they currently represent less than 2% of cultivated arable land, in contrast to more than 10% in China and the Americas.
LEGATO will exploit comprehensive genomic resources which have recently become available, including mutant populations, mapping populations, molecular markers, and gene expression atlases for identification of gene candidates, to enable a quantum leap in the use of marker-assisted selection in legume plant breeding. The viability of the methods developed will then be evaluated in plant breeding operations. The team is keen to build on the knowledge of legume physiology and legumesymbiont interactions acquired in a series of previous EU projects, most notably GLIP ‘Grain Legumes Integrated Project’.
A LEGATO team member notes, ‘Despite previous advances, the impact [of previous projects] has been limited due to a lack of technology and expertise transfer since the expiry of GLIP and its attendant technology transfer platform (GL-TTP). We intend to take the opportunity to communicate and exploit better the breadth of knowledge obtained.’ The LEGATO team will also be taking on new challenges. ‘We have decided to tackle emerging pests and diseases that pose a threat to legume cultivation in low-input agriculture, some of which have been little studied in the past.’
The LEGATO team hopes that their work will benefit consumers and farmers alike, and they are adamant that the materials and know-how generated within the project will be transferred to the whole range of stakeholders via a network and forum. They hope also to witness a wider take-up via a programme of media-wide dissemination including website, brochures, and workshops.
Legumes are extremely important for the long term sustainability of European agriculture. Their unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen means they don’t require nitrogen fertilisers when cultivated and their diversifying effect reduces the requirement for pesticides. This, in turn, reduces costs for farmers and stress on the soil, ultimately allowing legumes to play a key role in mitigating the adverse effects of agricultural production. Grain legumes are also valuable and health-promoting sources of protein, and legume seeds are rich in slowly digestible starch, soluble sugars, fibre, minerals and vitamins.