Global food systems will need to almost double their production in order to feed the expected global population in 2050. Demand for meat alone is projected to rise by 73% in response to a growing population and increased protein demand across developed and developing countries. In order to meet this challenge and to mitigate the risks that meat production poses to environmental sustainability, production and consumption of healthy and sustainable alternative proteins, such as those from pulse crops need to be increased substantially.
Advancing the current market trade of pulses as commodities to value-added products (e.g., protein concentrate, protein isolates, starch and fibre) presents a leadership and economic opportunity for Australia. However, effort is required to form the core knowledge that would underpin the long-term sustainability and profitability of pulses grown in Australia. Key knowledge gaps to developing an Australian plant protein pipeline include:
- Characterising the relationship between yield and seed quality for target pulse crops;
- Assessment of regional, paddock variability (within and between paddocks) on protein content and seed composition;
- Profiling the impact of common environmental stresses such as frost, heat, terminal drought, soil composition on seed quality and off-flavour traits
The Plant Protein Atlas Initiative aims to use targeted ‘omics technologies, including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and phenomics (via collaboration with the NCRIS-enabled Australian Plant Phenomics Facility) in order to:
- Fast-track fundamental research through the creation of a referential ‘omics data resource of selected pulse varieties and how desirable traits develop over time, space, and environmental conditions. This resource will guide and support progress in genetic and agronomy research towards the optimisation of pulse crops for protein harvest and processing;
- Provide a proof-of-concept to showcase development of a complementary set of resources, termed ‘Atlases’. This framework could then be used as a model for other industries that aim to translate traditional outputs toward specific value-add opportunities; and
- Bolster a national network of stakeholders from government, researchers, growers, manufacturers, consumers and health professionals to support an ongoing effort in developing a quality Australian plant protein production industry.