A project undertaken in the School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Sciences, The University of Adelaide, and supervised by Dr. Iain Searle
Common vetch (Vicia sativa) is a leguminous, annual crop plant that provides valuable soil nitrogen to farming systems and is a palatable, cheap, high protein feed source with potential as feed for poultry, pigs and humans. One significant reason of its limited agricultural use is that anti-nutritional compounds exist in seeds, especially β-cyano-alanine and γ-glutamyl-β-cyano-alanine (GBA), which has high toxicity to monogastric animals, like poultry (especially), pigs, and humans. Conventional plant breeding methods over a 20-year period were unsuccessful to reduce the anti-nutritional compounds to a safe level. Hence, we developed an alternative approach to produce zero GBA vetch.
During the Hermon Slade funded project, HSF 17-7, we used cutting edge RNA-seq successfully to identify a candidate gene that regulates toxin accumulation. We then demonstrated, using transgenic plants, that this candidate gene is actually causal for the toxin accumulation in vetch. We also developed molecular scissors, CRISPR genome editing, as a functional tool for gene analysis in vetch. The next stage of this project is to develop non-transgenic vetch plants with restored gene function.
There is strong industry pull for this product, non-toxic vetch, and this is evident by recent funding from industry to carry this project forward.