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Abstract, Fruit, Vegetable and Cereal Science and Biotechnology, 2007

Biotechnology techniques have been widely used for legumes – important crops with excellent nutritional characteristics and soil improvement qualities. Limited work has been carried out with underutilized legume crops such as velvet bean (Mucuna spp.), which have great potential for multiple uses. In recent decades, there has been increased interest in the potential of Mucuna spp. as a cover crop and green manure for tropical and subtropical regions. Mucuna is also used as a minor food crop in many countries and interest in it as livestock feed – a common use for it in the early 1900s in the USA and elsewhere – is growing. Other minor uses exist, such as roasting the seeds as a coffee substitute. More importantly, L-dopa, extracted from Mucuna bean seeds and plants, is used for symptomatic relief of Parkinson’s disease. Despite these numerous qualities, some constraints have limited its adoption. Biotechnology techniques can provide a window of opportunity for new or expanding products of Mucuna. Earlier biotechnology work with Mucuna was mostly related to its medicinal uses and focused on the mechanism of L-dopa production. More recently, biotechnology has also been applied to identify the major virus diseases affecting Mucuna, to develop new diagnostic methods for early virus indexing of in vitro plants and to clean virus diseases using meristem and thermotherapy techniques, as well as to study genetic diversity through the use of molecular tools. There are still niches to be explored such as the numerous phytochemical qualities of Mucuna that can be used to benefit human and animal nutrition and health as well as the environment through use of these compounds in natural weed and pest control management.