It’s the food du jour in trendy London restaurants, but quinoa could soon be set to shed its hipster image.
A new study suggests the nutritious crop is in a prime position to tackle food shortages as the world’s population rises.
“Quinoa is incredibly resilient, and can grow in poor or salty soils,” Mark Tester, a professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, told AFP.
“It could provide a healthy, nutritious food source for the world using land and water that currently cannot be used,” added Tester, who’s been leading attempts to decode the plant’s genome.
Centuries ago, the food was popular among Incas, but it was marginalised when the Spanish arrived in South America and was never cultivated to capacity.
But that could all be about to change.
One of the conventional drawbacks of the crop is that it often produces bitter-tasting seeds, but Tester’s DNA sequencing could let farmers easily cultivate plants that are sweeter, as well as being stockier and more likely to survive.
He told the Telegraph: “We’ve pinpointed one of the genes that we believe controls the production of saponins in quinoa, which would facilitate the breeding of plants without saponins to make the seeds taste sweeter.”
The price of the food has soared in recent years as demand outstripped supply, but the latest breakthrough would make it easier to grow sellable strains.
The researchers were able to determine the location on the chromosome of 85% of the DNA sequence.
The research raises hopes that scientists will be able to cultivate varieties that don’t taste bitter and are adapted to conditions in different regions.
Robert van Loo, a researcher from Wageningen University who was involved in the study, said: “This is a major benefit for plant breeders.”