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BYU researchers introduce drought-resistant quinoa as nations face food challenges

Jan 12, 2022, 12:14 PM
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BYU graduate student Lauren Young (left) and professor of Plant and Wildlife Sciences Dr. Rick Jellen (right) tend to quinoa plants used in research. Photo: Screengrab of a video from BYU
(right)

PROVO, Utah — Climate change is exacerbating drought conditions in many parts of the world. Dry soil threatens the ability to grow basic crops that make up the diets of many. A team of Brigham Young University researchers may have a solution, and it revolves around quinoa. 

In a video message released by BYU, one of the researchers spoke about the issue at hand. Lauren Young said climates are becoming more arid. Crops that used to be able to grow in certain areas can’t anymore.

The work the research team at BYU is doing now is a continuation of an initial project. BYU researches helped to sequence the first ever genome of quinoa in 2017. 

After developing the genome sequence, researchers worked to modify it for the advantage of farmers in areas that are becoming more desert-like, with dry and less fertile soil. They are looking to create shorter crops that are less likely to fall over, and quinoa that is more stress tolerant in hot climates. 

Why are researchers focusing on quinoa?

Quinoa is considered an underutilized crop, or an “orphan crop.” It isn’t used or traded as much as rice, wheat, and corn. Therefore, quinoa isn’t studied as extensively by corporations and organizations with vested interest.

However, the BYU research team explained, quinoa is nutritious and high in protein and can substitute rice, wheat, and corn in various cultural food staples. 

Dr. Rick Jellen, BYU Plant and Wildlife Sciences professor, leads the team in research and in their work with small farming communities. The researchers have collaborated with a community in Morocco. 

Researchers including Young visited Morocco with Dr. Jellen. The team sat down with locals there and ate couscous made from their quinoa strains.

Young had this to say about the visit and the work the team does.

It’s hard to hear about the struggles people are having, yet it’s something we can fix.

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BYU researchers introduce drought-resistant quinoa as nations face food challenges