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Why grasspea? 

Grasspea (Lathyrus sativus L.) is a hardy crop, able to withstand extreme environmental conditions such as drought, floods and poor soils. For this reason, it is sometimes considered a famine food, eaten when other crops have failed, and a climate-change-resilient crop. It is grown in pockets in South Asia, southern Europe and the Horn of Africa.

A major problem with grasspea is that its seeds contain a neurotoxin, β-N-oxalyl-L-α,β-diaminopropionic acid (β-ODAP), that can lead to paralysis in adults when consumed as a major part of an unbalanced diets over long periods. Low-neurotoxin varieties developed by exploiting the genetic diversity of the crop offer the scope to make grasspea a safe food constituent. Its productivity can be seriously affected by the noxious weed broomrape (Orobanche sp.) and by aphids.

What we achieved


  • 306 seed samples of 28 species of grasspea wild relatives were collected from nine countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Portugal and Spain.

Pre-breeding and evaluation

  • Four wild relatives of grasspea—Lathyrus cicera, L. heirosolymitanus, L. marmoratus and L. inconspicuous—were crossed with cultivated lines of grasspea in pre-breeding efforts.
  • 420 accessions belonging to 12 Lathyrus species were evaluated for β-ODAP content and for resistance to broomrape. This identified grasspea wild relatives that had low levels of β-ODAP and wild relatives with resistance to two forms of broomrape—a major constraint to cultivation of grasspea in the Mediterranean region. These were subsequently crossed with cultivated lines in pre-breeding projects.
  • Speed breeding, a technique developed by NASA, was used to accelerate development of new grasspea varieties.
  • All seed samples of grasspea wild relatives and materials generated by the pre-breeding program are available from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) through SMTA.
  • 251 pre-breeding lines advanced through speed breeding and multiplied for on-farm testing.

Project partners


  • Armenian Botanical Society, Yerevan, Armenia
  • Genetic Resources Institute, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku, Azerbaijan
  • Agricultural Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Nicosia, Cyprus
  • Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia  
  • Institute of Botany, Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia
  • National Botanical Garden of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia
  • University of Pavia, Italy
  • Lebanon Agricultural Research Institute, Rayak, Lebanon
  • National Agriculture Genetic Resources Center, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciéncia, Lisbon, Portugal
  • National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology, Madrid, Spain

Pre-breeding and evaluation 

Lead Institute: ICARDA, Rabat, Morocco


  • Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique, Rabat, Morocco
  • John Innes Center, Norwich, UK

Grasspea key collections, materials and data

Grasspea collections

  • The largest grasspea collection is conserved at the ICARDA genebank.
  • Of the 306 samples collected, 261 samples of 26 wild Lathyrus species from eight countries are conserved in the Millennium Seed Bank.
  • The Genesys PGR database also includes information about grasspea accessions in genebanks worldwide.

Pre-breeding materials 

  • All pre-breeding materials and promising introgressed lines are being advanced at ICARDA  and are available for sharing through SMTA.


  • All data from the crop wild relatives (CWR) grasspea pre-breeding and evaluation projects are available in the Germinate grasspea database

Grasspea stories

Crop Trust stories
Partner stories
Relevant publications
  • Abdallah, F., Kumar, S., Amri, A., Mentag, R., Kehel, Z., Mejri, R.K., El Abidine Triqui, Z., Hejjaoui, K., Baum, M., Amri, M. 2021. Wild Lathyrus species as a great source of resistance for introgression into cultivated grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.) against broomrape weeds (Orobanche crenata Forsk. and Orobanche foetida Poir.). Crop Science 61(1): 263–276.
  • Das, A., Parihar, A.K., Barpete, S., Kumar, S., Gupta, S. 2021. Current perspectives in reducing β-ODAP and improvement of potential agronomic traits in grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.). Frontiers in Plant Sciences 12:703275.
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