Life Sciences Lab
Honors and Awards

UMass Biochemist Sibongile Mafu Receives NSF Grant for Legume Crop Resilience and Productivity Research

Sibongile Mafu, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has received a four-year, $625,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to untangle the chemical diversity in legumes in an effort to improve agricultural yields to meet growing demands for plant-based protein sources.  

Sibongile Mafu
Sibongile Mafu

Legumes are a vital part of the world’s food system, and their popularity continues to grow as more people seek out plant-based protein sources. Grain legumes such as chickpea, lentils and the common bean provide 33% of human dietary protein and up to 60% in developing countries. They are important agricultural and feed crops, second only to cereal crops.

Using the grant, Mafu’s lab will continue its research in exploring biochemical diversity in plants, specifically the legume species Medicago truncatula.

All plants produce chemicals that help them to adapt to their environment. The Mafu lab focuses on how and why plants produce chemicals in response to different environmental cues in order to improve crop resilience and agricultural productivity.

“Because of their agronomic, nutritional, and environmental benefits, it is imperative to understand factors that may influence agricultural yield and/or quality of feed,” Mafu said.

This research will be integrated into an upper-level biochemistry laboratory class as part of the Course-Based Undergraduate Research (CUREs) program, as well as a short module focused on visualizing chemicals targeted at middle and high school students.