Cowpea, the most ancient crop farmed by man, has been gene-edited for large-scale cultivation.
The “new edition” of the legume, which includes black-eyed peas, can sprout upright and grow its pods simultaneously, so it can be mechanically harvested for the first time.
Until now, farmers have only been able to harvest it by hand because it sprawled on the ground, and the pods all matured at different times.
BetterSeeds, the Israeli company that successfully edited its genes, is also making cowpea resistant to herbicides.
Cowpea, also known as lubia, has a high protein content, heat tolerance, and is highly efficient in water and fertilizer consumption.
It is more sustainable than soybeans, the most abundantly grown legume, which requires large quantities of water and fertilizers and grows well in only temperate climates. Its yield is forecast to decline by 30 percent in the upcoming decade due to global warming.
“If I had to choose one crop to focus on, it’s cowpea, since we are facing a huge shortfall in the supply of plant-based proteins, namely soybean, due to climate change,” said Ido Margalit, CEO of BetterSeeds.
“Cowpea has the capability to fill in this gap pending its redesign to make it fit for mass scale cultivation which is exactly what BetterSeeds is doing. Cowpea will help to feed the world.
“BetterSeeds is committed to providing better crops which will solve the world’s looming food security problems. I believe that we will make an enormous impact.”
BetterSeeds was founded in 2017, and is based in Givat Hen, a moshav (agricultural settlement) in central Israel.