Researchers and plant breeders at Iowa State University are collaborating to develop a new crop to sustain a plant-based protein market. They aim to create new mung bean varieties, considered new crops in the United States. In Asia, farmers have been growing mung beans for centuries. Farmers in the Midwestern US look at the crop, a high-yield and high-protein mung bean, as a means to add diversity to their land management as well as improve crop farming income.
The mung is a legume known to be drought tolerant and to have nitrogen-fixing qualities that can be developed as a plant-based protein source. It’s presently used in a number of edible food products worldwide. Mung bean is a source of protein in vegetarian burgers, protein-rich pasta, cheeses, and snacks. A mung bean isolate also has baking purposes. In the US, mung bean is widely available as an egg substitute called “Just Egg.”
Researchers, led by Arti Singh, Iowa State assistant professor of agronomy, have received a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to begin the project. The said project will focus on mung bean breeding for plant-based protein in superior agronomic variety.
The University of Tennesee and the University of Vermont will serve as external partners, providing the researchers with expertise support. Singh convened with farmers and food processing farmers to discuss the research pursuits and market demands. Farmers in Kansas and Oklahoma showed their support by growing test plots for the project as well.
“I wanted to bring together a strong group of scientists to establish a coalition supporting the development of mung bean as a healthy and sustainable plant-based protein crop here in mid-west,” Singh shared. “These researchers will provide critical insight into the development of the crop, crop production and management, and genomic information. We are taking a holistic approach to ensure that we can cater to the needs of farmers and a rapidly growing industry,”
The team in charge of plant breeding will focus on creating new mung varieties with high protein content while using the new crosses by Singh. The other teams will work on evaluating crop management practices to help identify diseases, water stress tolerance, food-related traits, and insect-pest.
“Mung beans are already fairly drought tolerant,” Singh said. “But there are so many possibilities to explore with breeding efforts.”