PCGIN Growers have their fingers on the pulse for alternative proteins

CHAP Research Associate for New Innovations, Dr Jemma Taylor, attended the annual Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network (PCGIN) Stakeholders Meeting in November.

The meeting, organised by Claire Domoney at the John Innes Centre (JIC), in conjunction with the other PCGIN partners (University of Reading, NIAB, PGRO and Aberystwyth University) welcomes anyone working with pulse crops from across the sector.

PCGIN is a DEFRA-funded Genetic Improvement Network, which is allocated funds to increase knowledge and apply it to their specialist crop areas. PCGIN focuses mainly on pea and faba (broad) bean crop research and uses the impressive germplasm collections held at the JIC and NIAB.

The day started with an overview of current progress within PCGIN, highlighting the use of pea mapping populations to screen for downy mildew resistance, and an update on the progress of this method in faba bean.

This was followed by talks from the PCGIN research partners, focusing on the importance of genetic diversity. This included the development of mapping populations made from crosses of multiple parents with important traits, to find the genetic basis for the observed phenotypes (physical traits). Large parts of the genome have now been identified in the three parent lines, which helps to understand the common ancestry between them and to screen for important trait information.

There was also discussion of the importance of germplasm collections and how these can be used to increase genetic diversity in the current breeding pool, and the use and development of mutagenized faba bean populations to improve the discovery of new phenotypes.

The meeting then moved on to consider industry perspectives on PCGIN work and pulse crop growing. PGRO announced a new Descriptive List to replace the current Recommended List for variety trialling in pulse crops. Limagrain and Syngenta covered progress in pulse breeding programmes, and new chemical solutions to combat pests and diseases in field beans.

A theme that emerged from the industry talks was that of alternative protein sources. Demand for plant-based proteins, predominately found in pulse crops, is increasing. Soya bean, is still the main source of this but the market is expanding to cover other crops such as pea, chickpea and faba bean.

The Good Food Institute is funding research into this area, aimed at the food science arena, but there is scope to investigate the plant science side, to develop more productive pulses with improved protein complexes and adapted to produce different starch structures.

The potential of this was highlighted by Katerina Petropoulou from Imperial College London, who studied the digestibility of two types of pea with different starch structures. One was more digestible, which could have a positive effect on blood sugar maintenance and so be suitable for diabetes sufferers.

Although pulse crops are often thought of as minor crops compared to cereals, they are still important. If the demand for alternative protein continues to increase, pulse crops could be vital.

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