Saint Louis University

Toward a More Sustainable Agricultural System

Wes Jackson PerennialsFaculty: Dr. Allison Miller

The Center for Sustainability, The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and the Missouri Botanical Garden are engaged in a new project entitled evaluating perennial grain, legume, and oilseed species for prebreeding and domestication. The long-term goal is to advance sustainable agriculture and ecosystem security by incorporating herbaceous and shrubby perennial grain, legume, and oilseed species into large-scale contemporary agriculture.

Because perennial grain, legume, and oilseed-producing species are not well-represented among contemporary domesticates, targeted breeding programs in wild, previously undomesticated species offer one major pathway to the development of perennial crops.

This is an ambitious, large-scale, global effort to identify perennial species as candidates for domestication and use in perennial polycultures. Researchers are bridging the extensive resources and expertise of two groups of scientists from (a) The Land Institute, which for more than 30 years has worked "to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that of annual crops" and (b) the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), one of the world's largest research botanical gardens and some of its SLU-affiliated scientists.

Botanical gardens like MBG have been systematically documenting and databasing plant biodiversity and uses on global scales, generating phylogenetic analyses, taxonomic revisions, ethnobotanical surveys, and collections of preserved seeds in seedbanks. This project will bring together scientists working to develop perennial grain, legume, and oilseed crops at The Land Institute and the growing resources accumulated by the botanical garden and plant evolutionary biology communities with the goal of identifying and developing perennial species for temperate and tropical agriculture.

The proposed work was recently funded by the Perennial Agriculture Project in conjunction with the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation and The Land Institute and the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability Research Innovation Fund.

The project has four specific aims:

  1. Generate a global checklist of perennial, herbaceous or shrubby grain, legume, and oilseed taxa.
  2. Identify a "short-list" of candidate species for domestication based on the careful evaluation of traits related to crop yield and quality, ecophysiology, ease of domestication, known prior food use or toxicity issues, and access, among others.
  3. Build a collection of seeds of short-listed species for use in prebreeding programs housed at The Land Institute
  4. Plan and initiate long-term experiment(s) designed to develop and test theory addressing evolutionary processes in perennial taxa.

At Saint Louis University, the project will be led by Allison Miller in collaboration with Wendy Applequist, Matthew Albrecht, and Quinn Long from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Tim Crews, Lee DeHaan, Wes Jackson, and David Van Tassel from The Land Institute.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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