Research Topic

Protein crops: Food and feed for the future

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Because of the protein content of their seeds, grain legumes, pseudocereals and other minor crops are attractive candidates to satisfy the growing demand for plant protein production worldwide for food and feed. Despite their high value, many protein crops have not been adequately assessed and numerous ...

Because of the protein content of their seeds, grain legumes, pseudocereals and other minor crops are attractive candidates to satisfy the growing demand for plant protein production worldwide for food and feed. Despite their high value, many protein crops have not been adequately assessed and numerous species are underutilized. Special attention has to be paid to genetic diversity and landraces, and to the key limiting factors affecting yield, including water deficiency and other abiotic and biotic stresses, in order to obtain stable, reliable and sustainable crop production through the introduction and local adaptation of genetically improved varieties.
Legumes, the main protein crops worldwide, contribute to the sustainable improvement of the environment due to their ability to fix nitrogen and their beneficial effects on the soil. They play a key role in the crop diversification and sustainable intensification of agriculture, particularly in light of new and urgent challenges, such as climate change and food security. In addition, the role of legumes in nutrition has been recognized as a relevant source of plant protein, together with other benefits for health. Soybean, peanut, common bean, pea, lupine, chickpea, faba bean, lentil, grass pea, cowpea and pigeon pea are currently the most important legumes for human consumption and animal feed. Pseudocereals, such as amaranth and quinoa are also good sources of proteins. Amaranth seeds contain lysine, an essential amino acid that is limited in other grains. Nutritional evaluations of quinoa indicate that it constitutes a source of complete protein with all of the amino acids needed for human diet, and also important minerals, vitamins, high quality oils and flavonoids.
Other protein crops also deserve attention. Flax seeds contain high levels of dietary fibre as well as protein. Hemp has up to 33% of seed protein, with an amino acid profile close to complete. Caraway seeds are rich in high value proteins that contain many essential amino acids.
Finally, although cereals protein content is not high (7-12 %), their seeds are largely used for human consumption. Increasing protein content, enriching for limiting essential amino acids, or reducing gluten sensitivity and albumins and prolamins allergies are aspects that also deserve special attention. In this Research Topic, papers dealing with all different aspects of protein crops are welcome, including the breeding and selection of varieties for high yield or specific traits, biodiversity, sustainable cultivation, food and feed uses, nutritional value, health benefits, socio-economic or environmental issues, which may be considered crucial to help provide the plant proteins of the future.


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