Lathyrus sativus

Lathyrus sativus

Lathyrus sativus, is a legume (family Fabaceae) commonly grown for human consumption and livestock feed in Asia and East Africa. It is a particularly important crop in areas that are prone to drought and famine, and is thought of as an 'insurance crop' as it produces reliable yields when all other crops fail. It is also known as grass pea, blue sweet pea, chickling vetch, Indian pea, Indian vetch, white vetch, almorta or alverjón (Spain), cicerchia (Italy), guaya (Ethiopia), and khesari (India); consumption of this pulse in Italy is limited to some areas in the middle part of the country, and is steadily declining. Seed is sold for human consumption at markets in Florence (organic growers) and could be procured through the company Manufactum several years ago.

Like other grain legumes, L. sativus produces a high-protein seed. The seeds also contain variable amounts of a neurotoxic amino acid β-N-Oxalyl-L-α,β-diaminopropionic acid or ODAP. ODAP is considered as the cause of the disease neurolathyrism, a neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis of the lower body: emaciation of Gluteal muscle (buttocks). The disease has been seen to occur after famines in Europe (France, Spain, Germany), North Africa, South Asia, and is still prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Afghanistan (pan handle) when Lathyrus seed is the exclusive or main source of nutrients for extended periods. Research has shown that ODAP concentration increases in plants grown under stressful conditions, compounding the problem.

Breeding programs are underway to produce lines of L. sativus that produce less ODAP.

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