African led research into a a climate resilient bean could make a vital contribution to food security in drought-prone regions.
The team, which includes international researchers, has successfully charted the sequencing of the hyacinth bean or ‘lablab bean’ [Lablab purpureus] . This could make more popular the wider cultivation of the crop, bringing nutritional and economic benefits, as well as much needed diversity to the global food system.
Currently the three major crops that provide over 40% of global calorie intake – wheat, rice, and corn – receive the bulk of breeding and crop improvement efforts. With so little diversity in crop cultivation, the global food system is vulnerable to environmental and social instabilities.
Oluwaseyi Shorinola, from the International Livestock Research Institute, and a visiting scientist at the UK’s John Innes Centre said:
“The first green revolution was achieved with major crops like wheat and rice. Orphan crops like lablab could pave the way for the next green revolution.”
The lablab bean is native to Africa and is cultivated throughout the tropics producing highly nutritious beans, which are used for food and livestock feed. It’s extremely drought-resilient and thrives in a range of environments and conditions, contributing to food and economic security, and improving soil fertility by fixing nitrogen. Lablab is also used medicinally in some areas.
The researchers say that underutilised crops like lablab hold the key to diversified and climate-resilient food systems and genome-assisted breeding is one promising strategy to improve their productivity and adoption.
The research was also important because it was led by African scientists. Meki Shehabu, a scientist at ILRI in Ethiopia explained:
“Although many African indigenous crops have been sequenced in the past few years, in most of that work African scientists have been underrepresented, and when we’ve been involved we have been in the back seat. What makes this project special is that it is led by African scientists, in collaboration with scientists from international institutes.”
Click on this link to access Chromosome-level genome assembly and population genomic resource to accelerate orphan crop lablab breeding, published in Nature Communications
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