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Genetic diversity and molecular bases of drought tolerance in legumes

Genetic diversity and molecular bases of drought tolerance in legumes

Yield losses due to climate change and associated drought are one of the main problems faced by current crops, including legumes. Our interest is focused on legumes, not only because they are the main source of vegetable protein for human food and livestock feed, but also for their unique ability to establish symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, thus diminishing the inputs of fertilizers and reducing their environmental impact. These characteristics make these crops relevant in sustainable agriculture.

Grupo de investigación dependiente del

Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics (CBGP; UPM-INIA) ​

One of our main objectives is to explore the natural variation of legumes, searching for genebank varieties more resilient to drought and with high nitrogen fixation ability. Genebanks are crucial resources for the conservation of natural genetic diversity to be explored as sources of novel features to cope with fluctuating circumstances, including climate change, and are essential for sustained crop breeding programs. Spanish Plant Genetic Resources Center (INIA-CSIC) has one of the largest collections worldwide of legumes, including landraces, wild relatives and commercial cultivars. Our research activity is closely linked to the analysis of the genetic diversity present in these legume collections, specifically in Vicia sativa (common vetch), Cicer arietinum (chickpea), and Lens culinaris (lentil).

Currently, we are developing two main projects: INCREASE and GREVISA. INCREASE project (European H2020) is focused on chickpea, common bean, lentil, and lupin collections of great relevance in the EU. The project involves the implementation of novel approaches to conserve, manage and characterize these genetic resources (by genotypic and phenotypic analysis) to boost the conservation of European crop genetic resources and promote their use and valorization. GREVISA project is focused on the molecular characterization of plant genetic resources of common vetch for breeding purposes (De la Rosa et al., 2020; De la Rosa et al., 2021; Ramirez-Parra and De la Rosa, 2023). GREVISA explores the natural genetic variation of V. sativa for the selection of drought-resilient genotypes and high nitrogen-fixer genotypes (Alvarez-Aragon et al., 2023).

Fig 1. Enfoque dual para seleccionar variedades de leguminosas tolerantes a sequía utilizando la variación genética natural pres 

Fig 1. Dual approach to select drought tolerant legume varieties using natural genetic variation from genebanks.

Recently, our group has shown that symbiotic-nodulated pea and vetch plants are more tolerant to drought. Biochemical, physiological, and molecular analyses strengthen the evidence for a common strategy for coping with water deprivation in both legumes (Alvarez-Aragon et al., 2023). Deciphering how symbiotic interactions affect legume stress tolerance is a relevant question that remains unsolved, especially in the context of maintaining crop production under climate change. We are addressing the comparative analysis of drought response and drought tolerance in symbiosis-dependent versus N-fertilized plants, mainly from a transcriptomic perspective.


Fig 2. Symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria promotes drought tolerance (A) and transcriptomic differences (B).


  • Analysis of the genetic diversity of legume collections to improve sustainable agriculture by characterization and selection of vetch varieties more tolerant to arid climate, and more efficient in nitrogen fixation.
  • Development of genetic and molecular tools (functional molecular markers) for marker-assisted selection to improve drought-tolerant varieties.
  • Analysis of the common vetch natural variation for the selection of varieties with increased nitrogen fixation ability.
  • Characterization of the effect of symbiotic interactions on drought stress response.
  • Deciphering the molecular mechanisms involved in drought tolerance and symbiotic interactions and the relationships between these processes.


Coordinador de Grupo

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