Lathyrus sativus (grasspea or chickling pea) is a popular food and feed crop in certain Asian and African countries, such as Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, because of its resistance to drought, flood, and moderate salinity and because of its low input requirements. When other crops fail under adverse climatic conditions, L. sativus can become the only available food source for the poor and sometimes is a survival food during famine. Although seeds of L. sativus are tasty and protein rich, overconsumption can cause an upper-neurone disease known as neurolathyrism, an irreversible paralysis of the lower limbs. The level of this compound in the dry seeds varies widely, depending on genetic factors and environmental conditions.
The ability of L. sativus to provide an economic yield under most adverse conditions has made it a popular crop in subsistence farming in many developing countries, and it offers a great potential for use in other parts of the world. In the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region, under low-rainfall conditions there is a tendency for increasing monoculture of cereals, such as barley. The incorporation of grasspea in the rotation can make the production system more sustainable by improving soil fertility and breaking disease and pest cycles.
The objectives of the crop improvement programme of International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) for this species are to improve its yield potential and nutritional quality through the reduction of its content of the neurotoxin 3-(N-oxalyl)-L- 2,3-diaminopropionic acid (ß-ODAP). Low-neurotoxin lines having 0.07% to 0.02% ß-ODAP were developed by using conventional breeding methods and by developing somaclonal variants.
Abd El-Moneim, A.M.; Dorrestein, B.van; Baum, M.; Mulugeta, W. Improving the nutritional quality and yield potential of grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.). Food and Nutrition Bulletin (2000) 21 (4) 493-496.