Austrian monk Gregor Mendel’s experiments with the pea plant helped us understand genetics. Now, an international team of researchers from India, Australia and China have cracked the genetic code of the pea in a study that could have a far-reaching impact on developing climate resilient crops.

The researchers have traced back the evolution of peas, which have been a rich source of proteins, starch, fibre and minerals for mankind for centuries. And while two peas in a pod may be thought to be alike, they have uncovered different traits of 118 wild varieties of peas.

The pea project

“This study provides a deeper understanding of peas and the genes that can play a role in adaptation to climate change and help in developing more climate resilient crops,” said Rajeev Varshney, Director, Center for Crop and Food Innovation with the Food Futures Institute (Murdoch University), and one of the project leaders of the study.

Global institutes such as International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Chinese Agricultural Academy of Sciences are part of the study.

Plant breeders can use this information to develop new pea varieties with improved characteristics, like drought and frost tolerance. Genomic selection facilitates the rapid combination of superior genes and accelerates the breeding cycle.

“It fills the gap between previous basic models and modern genomics to boost research and crop improvement for the pea,” he said.

In a paper published in Nature Genetics, the researchers said, “The crop has lacked a high-quality reference genome and genetic transformation system for a long time, thereby losing its dominance and becoming an orphan crop in the modern genomics era.”

A resilient crop that grows even in difficult weather conditions, peas are a crucial crop for farmers due to their versatility and reliable yields across a range of environments and soil types. They also play an important ecological role due to their nitrogen fixing capacity.

“Despite its critical role in advancing plant genetics, its domestication process remains a mystery, and the genetic diversity of cultivated and wild peas within Pisum has yet to be fully uncovered,” Varshney said.