Key message: Given recent advances in pulse molecular biology, genomics-driven breeding has emerged as a promising approach to address the issues of limited genetic gain and low productivity in various pulse crops. The global population is continuously increasing and is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. This huge population pressure will lead to severe shortage of food, natural resources and arable land. Such an alarming situation is most likely to arise in developing countries due to increase in the proportion of people suffering from protein and micronutrient malnutrition. Pulses being a primary and affordable source of proteins and minerals play a key role in alleviating the protein calorie malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and other undernourishment-related issues. Additionally, pulses are a vital source of livelihood generation for millions of resource-poor farmers practising agriculture in the semi-arid and sub-tropical regions. Limited success achieved through conventional breeding so far in most of the pulse crops will not be enough to feed the ever increasing population. In this context, genomics-assisted breeding (GAB) holds promise in enhancing the genetic gains. Though pulses have long been considered as orphan crops, recent advances in the area of pulse genomics are noteworthy, e.g. discovery of genome-wide genetic markers, high-throughput genotyping and sequencing platforms, high-density genetic linkage/QTL maps and, more importantly, the availability of whole-genome sequence. With genome sequence in hand, there is a great scope to apply genome-wide methods for trait mapping using association studies and to choose desirable genotypes via genomic selection. It is anticipated that GAB will speed up the progress of genetic improvement of pulses, leading to the rapid development of cultivars with higher yield, enhanced stress tolerance and wider adaptability. © 2014 The Author(s).