Genomic selection for crop yield, drought tolerance and protein content of grain and perennial forage legumes

GENLEG is a project funded by the Italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies within the competitive call for legume improvement research published in the Ministry Decree no. 28920 of July 18, 2019.

The project is granted to the Research Centre for Animal Production and Aquaculture of the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA) of Italy. It started in January 2021 with a planned conclusion in July 2023.

Crop-animal systems have huge socio-economic importance in Italy, to sustain a number of high-quality production chains. For example, cheese and cured meat products account for 38% of the overall market value of PDO, PGI and COD [DOP, IGP and DOC] products of Italy. However, these systems are threatened by marked insufficiency of high-protein feedstuff and increasing drought due to climate change. High-protein grain legumes also have increasing interest for novel foods in vegetarian or vegan diets. Growing more productive and stress-tolerant legume cultivars is also important for climate change adaptation and mitigation via (i) reduced GHG emissions and energy consumption due to lower industrial synthesis of N fertilizers, (ii) saving of irrigation water, and (iii) reduced methane emissions per unit of product of animal origin though better forage quality and higher productivity per animal.

These challenges justify the project emphasis on the genetic improvement of crop yield, drought tolerance and protein content of three major legume crops, namely, alfalfa (alias lucerne), soybean, and pea.

The project emphasis on genomic selection is justified by pioneer research work by CREA and other institutions, which revealed the high perspective interest of this breeding approach to increase the efficiency and/or reduce the costs of selection for complex, polygenic target traits such as those into focus.

Project coordinator: Paolo Annicchiarico (, CREA, Research Centre for Animal Production and Aquaculture, Lodi, Italy