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Celebrating pulses at the Cut's Science Cafe

We've been invited to take part in this month's Science Cafe at the Cut; naturally we'll be talking about pulses. We're going to be joined by Dr. Claire Domoney and Mike Ambrose from the John Innes Centre (JIC), they'll be talking about their internationally important work on pulse breeding and in the JIC seed bank.

The Science Cafe is a great opportunity to hear from scientists working at the cutting edge and ask questions about their research and how it's applied. It's an informal evening - we'll be providing snacks for the tables and the cafe bar will be open (serving dishes made from our pulses and grains).

Find out more below - we'd love to see you on the 31st.

Celebrating the Year of Pulses at the Science Cafe:

This month Halesworth’s Science Café (6.30pm, Thursday 31st March at the Cut) will be celebrating pulses, seemingly humble crop plants that are increasingly being recognised as having the potential to transform agriculture and our diets for the better.

Acknowledging their importance, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared 2016 as International Year of Pulses. The aim is to raise awareness of the many benefits of pulses - "nutritious seeds for a sustainable future" - and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing at the Cut this March.

Food production and consumption has the biggest environmental impact of any human activity and we urgently need to tackle everything from greenhouse gas emissions to biodiversity loss, but we also have to face the challenges presented by global nutritional insecurity, a growing (hungry) population and the rise of diet related diseases. Incredibly pulses are a key part of the solution to all these problems.

A cheap, tasty food high in protein, dietary fibre, complex carbohydrates (making them low GI) and essential nutrients, pulses have been shown to lower blood cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help with body weight management [link to pdf]. As such they play a role in reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

As well as being healthy, pulses are one of the most sustainable crops a farmer can grow. All perform the neat trick of supplying much of their own fertilizer by ‘fixing’ nitrogen from the atmosphere. By increasing the microbial diversity in the soil they help maintain and increase fertility, benefiting other crops grown on the same land. It gets better; pulses provide a vital disease, weed and crop-pest break between crops in agricultural rotations and use far less water than almost any other protein source. For example, on average it takes less than 500 litres of water to produce a kilo of beans compared to around 6000 litres to produce a kilo of pork.

Low carbon footprint, water efficient, tasty and nutritious, good for the soil – there’s a lot to celebrate! But there are some big questions too, not least, if these crops are so incredible why aren’t we eating and growing more? As well as singing the praises of peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas, the three speakers at this month’s Science Café aim to address those questions.

Dr. Claire Domoney, Head of the Department of Metabolic Biology at the John Innes Centre will tell us about her legume seed quality research, which uses genetics, biochemistry and metabolomics to study quality traits relevant to the food and feed uses of peas. In order to encourage wider use of European peas as food and for animal feed (and so to incentivise farmers to include them in their rotations), Claire’s lab is looking at the composition of peas – their starch, sugar and protein content – and how this can be improved.

She and her team are also working on the anti-nutritional properties of peas that make them less attractive than imported soybeans as an animal feed; a change here could have big (positive) implications for the environmental impact of the feed supply chain. They’re also looking traits that effect the visual appearance of peas, which can have a significant economic impact when they’re sold for human consumption.

Josiah Meldrum, from Hodmedod, will explain how the company he and two friends founded in 2012 is changing the often negative public perception of pulses – especially those grown in the UK – and encourage more people to add them to their diets. He’ll describe nutritional research carried out into the benefits of eating UK pulses and also efforts to better understand the barriers that prevent people eating them more frequently. He’ll also talk about Hodmedod’s own farmer-led research into the production of pulses not currently grown in the UK (such as lentils), and the process of engaging with research institutions here and overseas.

Mike Ambrose manages the Germplasm Resources Unit (GRU) at the John Innes Centre. Part of the International network of Seed Banks, Mike’s work at the GRU focuses on the long term curation and distribution of strategically important germplasm for a range of crops (including beans and peas), their associated wild relatives and specialist genetic stocks.

Mike’s detailed knowledge of the GRU accessions, combined with an expanding range of web searchable databases, helps researchers in the wider bioscience community and related industries utilise a globally important resource. The GRU provides material for Claire’s pulse research and for Hodmedod’s search for older varieties with good human consumption traits that may have been overlooked.

The Cut Café will be open from 6.30pm. Talks commence at 7pm, evening ends at 9pm. Tickets cost £3 and can be bought in the door or in advance (recommended - the Science Cafe is a popular event). 

Box Office: 0845 673 2123 (or online)

Address: The Cut, New Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8BY

More about the speakers... 

Dr. Claire Domoney is Head of the Department of Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre, Norwich. Her research interests are in legume seed quality, using genetics, biochemistry and metabolomics to study quality traits relevant to the food and feed uses of pea. Claire’s research on pulse crop improvement generates new germplasm and contributes to a number of national and international projects. She leads the UK Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network. Claire was awarded the Royal Agricultural Society of England 2015 research medal.

Claire’s laboratory is engaged in research aimed at understanding genes and processes involved in determining seed quality traits in Pisum sativum L. (pea). Pea is the foremost European legume crop, with a variety of food and feed uses, and provides an important and valuable break crop in rotations. Traits of importance to industry include overall composition, where sugar, starch and protein are of primary importance. For food markets, visual traits can have a large economic impact in terms of return to the growers. 

Josiah Meldrum, along with William Hudson and Nick Saltmarsh, is a co-founder of Hodmedod an enterprise that grew out of a community project in Norwich that explored local food production for more sustainable diets. Part of the project investigated whether there might be a local market for fava beans, a crop grown on a large scale in Britain but almost entirely for export or livestock feed; they concluded that there was and Hodmedod was established in 2012. 

As well as working with farmers to market bean (Vicia faba) and pea (Pisum sativum) varieties that are already widely grown in the UK, Hodmedod is involved in a number of formal and informal trials of species not widely grown here for drying - such as lentils (Lens culinaris) and new world beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). In addition Hodmedod has provided pulses for nutritional research, including work carried out by the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen that looked at participants willingness to eat British-grown pulses and the associated benefits.

Mike Ambrose manages the Germplasm Resources Unit (GRU) at the John Innes Centre and its development as a National Capability supported by the BBSRC, the GRU operates as part of the International network of Seed Banks. Mike’s work focuses on the long term curation and distribution of strategically important germplasm for a range of crops (including beans and peas) associated wild relatives and specialist genetic stocks and their utilisation by the wider bioscience community and related industries.

The GRU maintains an expanding range of web searchable databases and other web resources, helping researchers identify materials of potential interest that are can be readily accessed and cleared for use. As such the work Mike does is central both to Claire’s pulse research and Hodmedod’s search for older varieties with good human consumption traits that may have been overlooked.

Josiah Meldrum
Josiah Meldrum


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