FFAR Grant Improves Chickpeas’ Protein Content & Quality

Davis, California

  • Next Generation Crops

DAVIS, Calif. (August 4, 2021) — The future of agriculture requires producing more food on less land in an environmentally sustainable manner. Ensuring global nutritional security depends in large part on plants that are more efficient at producing calories and protein than livestock. However, centuries of crop domestication have limited the genetic capacity to improve widely consumed crops to meet these needs. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, with matching funding from Open Philanthropy, is awarding a $1,000,000 Plant Protein Enhancement Project grant to NuCicer to introduce greater genetic diversity into chickpea varieties. This research is increasing protein content and quality and developing other desirable agronomic traits in chickpeas.

Chickpeas are an ideal source of nutrition. These tiny beans are packed with protein and do not need nitrogen fertilizer, which reduces their carbon footprint. This research will help overcome the genetic bottleneck that is limiting chickpea nutritional and agronomic enhancements. In addition, chickpea protein has potential to be used by the plant-based meat substitute industry. Both direct consumption and plant-based meat substitute industry consumption are needed to meet future global protein demand in a sustainable way.

While chickpeas have the potential to be a major source of protein in the future, domestication has wrung dry the genetic opportunities from domesticated varieties. By crossbreeding wild chickpeas with domesticated chickpeas, NuCicer’s material contains forty times more genetic variation. The crossbred chickpeas show significant genetic potential for improving many traits, including insect and disease resistance, drought tolerance and seed protein content and quality.

NuCicer researchers, led by Dr. Brendan Riely and Dr. Douglas Cook, are analyzing the protein content and quality within the crossbred chickpea varieties to understand the full possibilities of its genetic resources to create groundbreaking improvements in chickpea protein. Initial results show protein content can be increased by at least 75 percent beyond commercial varieties. The goal of the research is to implement breeding strategies for further improving protein content and quality in chickpea varieties that also express desired traits such as climate resilience and pest and disease resistance.

Chickpea is already low in flavor, color, and aroma and does not contain common allergens. Increasing protein content enables NuCicer to produce affordable, nutritious chickpea protein ingredients that will outcompete soy and pea and can replace animal proteins for a sustainable future. Kathryn Cook
Chief Executive Officer, NuCicer

The researchers will fuel a global effort to accelerate chickpea development as a commercially viable and environmentally friendly crop through publications and collaborations.

FFAR launched the Plant Protein Enhancement Project through its Crops of the Future Collaborative in 2019 to enhance the protein yield of plant-based staple crops and decrease costs. This competitive research program funds grants to enhance the supply chain for plant-based protein in a profitable and sustainable manner. Applicants were not required to secure matching funds.


Crops of the Future Collaborative

The Crops of the Future Collaborative is a public-private, multi-participant consortium convened by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research. The Collaborative brings together companies and research organizations to accelerate development of new crop varieties that address food and agriculture challenges. The Collaborative leverages participants’ resources to expand the scientific understanding of characteristics giving rise to complex traits that crops need to adapt to changing environments.

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