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UK scientists could make poison pea a crucial crop

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It is grown in some of the world’s most inhospitable, arid regions and is noted for being rich in protein. But the grass pea – although hardy and nutritious – comes with a catch. It contains a poison that can occasionally trigger irreversible paralysis, particularly among individuals who are already undernourished.

As a result, it is often grown only as an insurance crop, to provide short-term food supply when harvests of other crops have failed. Nevertheless, poisoning from Lathyrus sativus still occurs in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia and Algeria.

But now a group of UK scientists studying the grass pea have revealed the secrets of its poison production. In the near future they expect to create versions that are free of its toxic side-effects.

“Very soon, we will be able to make safe versions of the grass pea and provide our undernourished, overheated planet with a very valuable crop,” said project scientist Dr Anne Edwards, of the John Innes Centre in Norfolk.

The key biochemical steps by which the grass pea’s poison is made were revealed when scientists…

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