Opening doors to lupins

Offering higher protein content than peas and other legumes, lupins are a crop that could not only support the future of plant-based foods, but also add much needed diversity into crop production and the overall food system.

CEO and Co-Founder of Phytoform Labs Ltd, Dr Will Pelton, believes that lupins have great potential, and thanks to recent legislation introduced to speed up the regulatory process for gene editing, suddenly the future looks much brighter for this potential break crop.

Summarising his thoughts in a guest blog for CHAP, Dr Pelton said: “In the past, soy protein has dominated plant-based diets, but soya bean, that originates from the tropics, is not found naturally around the globe. This means it lacks genetic diversity so is highly vulnerable to external influences such as climate change or pest and disease pressure.

We’re also experiencing a surge in the popularity of plant-based diets, calling for greater choice in types of proteins. This is because we need proteins with different properties, to enhance qualities such as texture, for eating enjoyment.

But here we have lupins – a hardy crop with species worldwide, suitable for a range of climates. The crop has huge genetic diversity and therefore, potential. Due to this, companies are starting to investigate its use as a plant-based protein and the next steps are to accelerate it into the market.

Unfortunately, there are a number of hurdles to overcome. The first, and perhaps most important, is the fact that lupins in their less domesticated ‘bitter’ form are harmful to human health. Although some breeders have developed ‘sweet’ varieties with less toxins, we need a broad range of genetics to make them a success.

This is possible, thanks to advanced breeding techniques combined with genome editing, to remove the toxic traits. Recent legislation changes in the UK now allow gene editing (GE), not to be confused with genetic modification (GM), to take place for research purposes. This is a huge step towards answering the complex issue of food security, and critical in improving access to new crops such as lupins.

This supports companies such as ourselves in our mission to use plant genetics to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture. Our innovative crop improvement platform uses our AI technology CRE.AI.TIVETM, to understand plant DNA and suggest small changes for specific outcomes. These can then be implemented using our genome editing, a technology that makes incredibly specific and accurate changes down to the single letter of DNA, resulting in commercially-relevant traits at a fraction of the time and cost.

The change in legislation means we can accelerate our work with lupins, investigating agronomic traits, quality traits for consumers, as well as the toxicity issue. This is important as growers need to be able to successfully grow the crop, once we’ve identified varieties safe for consumption.

Of course, we can create viable new varieties, but there needs to be the infrastructure to support it all. Currently the UK is behind in terms of processing facilities therefore investment needs to be made in the whole supply chain, to facilitate positive change.

Once we have this, the doors are open for lupins. But, the most robust use of them isn’t in animal feed, it’s in ingredient manufacture as part of legume mixes as an alternative protein source direct for consumers. It could even enter the market in raw form, as new snack products. Either way, it’s high time for lupins to find their feet in the consumer sphere, to really harness their potential.”


Read a Conversation With Dr Will Pelton from a previous interview with CHAP, here. Phytoform Labs are in CHAP’s membership network, which you can read about here.

CHAP aims to build networks of leading scientists, farmers, advisors, businesses and academia to understand industry priorities and develop innovative solutions. For more information visit www.chap-solutions.co.uk or e-mail enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk


Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.