Neglecting legumes has compromised human health and sustainable food production


The United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (grain legumes) under the banner ‘nutritious seeds for a sustainable future’. A second green revolution is required to ensure food and nutritional security in the face of global climate change. Grain legumes provide an unparalleled solution to this problem because of their inherent capacity for symbiotic atmospheric nitrogen fixation, which provides economically sustainable advantages for farming. In addition, a legume-rich diet has health benefits for humans and livestock alike. However, grain legumes form only a minor part of most current human diets, and legume crops are greatly under-used. Food security and soil fertility could be significantly improved by greater grain legume usage and increased improvement of a range of grain legumes. The current lack of coordinated focus on grain legumes has compromised human health, nutritional security and sustainable food production.

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Figure 1: World production of cereal and grain legumes over the past 50 years.
Figure 2: The relationship between changes in yield and world area harvested for different grain legumes over the past 50 years.
Figure 3: World grain legume production in 2013.
Figure 4: Taxonomic relationships within the Papilionideae family showing the two major clades of cultivated legume, the cool season Hologalegina (blue) and the warm season Phaseoloids (light green).
Figure 5: Phenotypic variability in chickpea germplasm conserved at ICRISAT, India.
Figure 6: Major strategies in genomics-assisted crop improvement for grain legumes.


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We thank the World University Network (WUN) and research collaboration awards (UWA and the University of Leeds) for financial support. C.H.F. thanks the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC UK, BB/M009130/1) and the European Union (KBBE-2012-6-311840; ECOSEED) for financial support. J.W.C. thanks BBSRC UK and Wherry and Sons (UK) for an industrial CASE studentship (BB/K501839/1). H.-M.L. was supported by the Hong Kong RGC Collaborative Research Fund (CUHK3/CRF/11G), the Lo Kwee-Seong Biomedical Research Fund and Lee Hysan Foundation. K.-M. Fung, Q. Wang and L. K.-W. Siu of The Chinese University of Hong Kong assisted in the production of Fig. 3, Table 1 and the associated webpage ( We thank H. Upadhyaya for the images shown in Fig. 4. T.A.M. and J.M.H. thank the Western Australian Government, Department of Industry and Resources for financial support. The authors thank Bodhi's Bakery, Fremantle, Western Australia, for baking the bread and biscuits and Belmar Foods, Balcatta, Western Australia, for manufacturing and providing the pasta. B.N.K., H.B. and T.D.C. are supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC), ITRH—Legumes for Sustainable Agriculture (IH140100013). M.J.C. and C.H.F. thank the ARC (DP150103211) for financial support. A.J.M. is supported by grant funding (BB/JJ004553/1 and BB/L010305/1) from the BBSRC and the John Innes Foundation.

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C.H.F. co-created the network, discussed the idea, organized the content, wrote the abstract, introduction and ‘Conclusions and perspectives’ sections, and edited the final article before submission. H.-M.L. discussed and contributed to the content, prepared Fig. 3, Table 1 and the associated webpage ( R.V. provided information concerning genetics and breeding. H.T.N. discussed and contributed to the content and coordinated the genetic and breeding topics including the figures and Table 1. K.H.M.S. co-created the network, discussed the idea, contributed to various sections and figures, and edited the final version. T.D.C. discussed the content, contributed to the section on sustainable agriculture, contributed edits to several sections, and gave suggestions on figures. W.A.C. wrote parts of the text, contributed citations and edited Table 1 and figures. H.B. discussed the content, prepared Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, and contributed to the section ‘Sustainable agriculture’. T.A.M. discussed the idea and contributed to the section ‘Nutrition and health’. J.M.H. contributed to the section ‘Nutrition and health’. J.W.C. produced Fig. 4 and finalized the references. A.J.M. contributed to the section ‘Symbiotic nitrogen fixation’. K.K. and J.V. contributed to the section ‘Bringing in orphans’. C.C. organized the section ‘Bringing in orphans’ and reviewed the final version of the section. J.A.O. discussed the idea and provided information for the section ‘Nutrition and health’. M.L.W. contributed to the section ‘Nutrition and health’. Y.L. discussed the idea and contributed to the section ‘Sustainable agriculture’. H.S., K.S. and J.Y. discussed the idea and helped to edit the content before submission. N.F. contributed to the section ‘Mitigating climate change’. B.N.K. contributed to sections focussed on legume nitrogen fixation and helped to edit the content before submission. F.-L.W. produced Table 1 and the associated webpage ( B.V. contributed to the section and citations on abiotic stress, and Fig. 6. M.C. co-created the network, prepared Box 1, discussed the idea and edited the figures before submission.

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Foyer, C., Lam, H., Nguyen, H. et al. Neglecting legumes has compromised human health and sustainable food production. Nature Plants 2, 16112 (2016).

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