Raising quinoa: An orphan crop that is healthy and ready for a changing climates

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Michael Broberg Palmgren


University of Copenhagen


DKK 14,819,000




Semper Ardens: Advance


I aim to decipher molecular mechanisms of water stress tolerance in plants and generate a knowledge base and methods platforms for future breeding of drought-tolerant crops. Chenopodium quinoa (quinoa) will be the focus of the project. Quinoa is a pseudocereal crop that is tolerant to multiple water-related stresses. Quinoa can be grown on marginal soils during extreme salt and water stress and the seed has exceptional nutritional qualities. However, utility is limited by antinutritional saponins that accumulate in the seed coat and have to be removed before consumption. In the project, the mechanism behind the exceptional stress resistance of quinoa will be studied and breeding efforts to remove saponins from the seed coat will be initiated.


The domestication of underutilized crops offers the prospect of expanding crop diversity for an environmentally sustainable agriculture. Present day crop production is limited by environmental stresses that are only likely to be aggravated by predicted climate changes. Drought and salt stress are major problems for agriculture globally because these adverse environmental factors prevent plants from realizing their full genetic potential. Soon, marginal dry lands will have to be used for food production, and cultivation will not be possible in these regions without irrigation. The shortage of high-quality irrigation water will further exacerbate problems caused by salinity.


I will benefit from a newly developed site-directed non-gmo mutagenesis technology that, guided by the recently published genome sequence of quinoa, will make possible gene modification for breeding of this water stress-resistant plant and reveal its mechanism of salt tolerance. This work will involve a tight collaboration with Carlsberg, where the technology has been developed, and with two outstanding scientists abroad, who are leading the best quinoa laboratories in the world.

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