Invasive Plants Are a Valuable Alternate Protein Source and Can Contribute to Meeting Climate Change Targets

Ajay Iyer, Charles S. Bestwick, Sylvia H. Duncan, Wendy R. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Agriculture has come under pressure to meet global food demands, whilst having to meet economic and ecological targets. This has opened newer avenues for investigation in unconventional protein sources. Current agricultural practises manage marginal lands mostly through animal husbandry, which; although effective in land utilisation for food production, largely contributes to global green-house gas (GHG) emissions. Assessing the revalorisation potential of invasive plant species growing on these lands may help encourage their utilisation as an alternate protein source and partially shift the burden from livestock production; the current dominant source of dietary protein, and offer alternate means of income from such lands. Six globally recognised invasive plant species found extensively on marginal lands; Gorse (Ulex europaeus), Vetch (Vicia sativa), Broom (Cytisus scoparius), Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium), Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), and Buddleia (Buddleja davidii) were collected and characterised to assess their potential as alternate protein sources. Amino acid profiling revealed appreciable levels of essential amino acids totalling 33.05 ± 0.04 41.43 ± 0.05, 33.05 ± 0.11, 32.63 ± 0.04, 48.71 ± 0.02 and 21.48 ± 0.05 mg/g dry plant mass for Gorse, Vetch, Broom Fireweed, Bracken, and Buddleia, respectively. The availability of essential amino acids was limited by protein solubility, and Gorse was found to have the highest soluble protein content. It was also high in bioactive phenolic compounds including cinnamic- phenyl-, pyruvic-, and benzoic acid derivatives. Databases generated using satellite imagery were used to locate the spread of invasive plants. Total biomass was estimated to be roughly 52 Tg with a protein content of 5.2 Tg with a total essential amino acid content of 1.25 Tg (~24%). Globally, Fabaceae was the second most abundant family of invasive plants. Much of the spread was found within marginal lands and shrublands. Analysis of intrinsic agricultural factors revealed economic status as the emergent factor, driven predominantly by land use allocation, with shrublands playing a pivotal role in the model. Diverting resources from invasive plant removal through herbicides and burning to leaf protein extraction may contribute toward sustainable protein, effective land use, and achieving emission targets, while simultaneously maintaining conservation of native plant species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number575056
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by the Scottish Government through RESAS as part of its strategic research programme.

We would like to thank William Rees and Teresa Grohmann for their time in helping with preparation of the manuscript. Jacqueline Wallace (Rowett Institute) and Robin Walker (SRUC) for providing plant samples. Donna Henderson and Jodie Park for technical assistance in NSP measurements. Susan Anderson for technical assistance in amino acid profiling. Gary Duncan and Lorraine Scobbie for technical assistance in phenolic profiling. Lisa Guerrier, Salomé Leveque (IUT- Clermont-Ferrand, France), who assisted and observed procedures as part of their lab-skill training. We would also like to thank Graham Horgan (BIOSS, Rowett Institute) for advise on the statistical analysis. We would like to thank the NHS for its incredible commitment to keeping us safe during these harsh times.


  • plant protein
  • marginal lands
  • sustainable agriculture
  • net zero emissions
  • nutritional characterisation
  • invasive plants
  • essential amino acids
  • cyclic economy


Dive into the research topics of 'Invasive Plants Are a Valuable Alternate Protein Source and Can Contribute to Meeting Climate Change Targets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this