Discovery Fellowship for research into new ways to protect wheat crops from rising temperatures

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

A scientist from the University of Nottingham has been given a funding boost for her research examining novel ways the wheat flower can tolerate rising climate temperatures.

Plant Physiologist, Dr Lorna McAusland from the School of Biosciences is one of 22 scientists to be awarded a BBSRC Discovery Fellowship. A highly sought-after award, BBSRC’s Discovery Fellowships are offered to individuals poised to become not only outstanding researchers, but outstanding leaders in their particular field.

To be successfully named as a Discovery Fellow, prospective candidates must demonstrate that they are undertaking ground-breaking science.

Science that not only aligns with BBSRC’s strategic priorities, but that also has the potential to make real impact.

Lorna will develop techniques to uncover crucial characteristics which enable crops to survive high temperatures. In particular, the role non-foliar structures play in contributing to heat tolerance.

While the majority of our understanding about carbon capture comes from the leaves, non-foliar structures, such as the stems, fruits and flowers, offer an exciting, unexplored source of variation for how plants capture carbon in the face of rising global temperatures. The diversity of shapes and responses to heat will provide vital information on how to protect our crops from climate change; in particular wheat.

Wheat is the world’s most grown crop plant, with all grain originating from the flower or ‘spike’. At the top of the canopy, the spike is exposed to the extremes of heat and light. High temperatures - the result of heatwaves brought about by global warming - damage key photosynthetic processes that reduce the duration of spike carbon capture from the air, leading to severe decreases in grain yield.

Through the development of a custom imaging platform, sophisticated growth facilities and utilising cutting-edge 3D computed tomography, Lorna aims to address the lack of fundamental knowledge surrounding carbon capture in the wheat spike.

Over three years, this BBSRC Fellowship supports researchers who have demonstrated potential to become future leaders in their field, enabling them to make the transition from post-doctoral research associate to an independent researcher.

Commenting on the fellowship Lorna said: “I feel very humbled and honoured to have received the BBSRC-Discovery Fellowship. I am also very grateful for the supportive and encouraging research community we have at the University of Nottingham; from the research development team to all the members of staff who gave their time and input in the lead up to my interview. This Fellowship will enable me to drive my career forward and foster exciting, cutting-edge areas of research which will develop our understanding of photosynthesis for the benefit of future crop yields.”

High temperatures and a disrupted environment are one of the greatest challenges facing agriculture: I am delighted that Lorna will now progress her innovative research at Nottingham: improving the resilience of photosynthesis in the wheat spike will be in critical for food security, especially in vulnerable parts of the world.
Professor of Applied Plant Physiology, Erik Murchie who is hosting Lorna’s research

Dr David McAllister, Director of Talent, Inclusion and Funding Delivery at BBSRC, said: "As the UK’s major public funder of bioscience research and innovation, BBSRC takes seriously its responsibility to invest in and develop talented individuals and teams.

BBSRC’s Discovery Fellowship programme is well-established and renowned for not only supporting outstanding science, but for supporting and developing our future leaders.

The 22 individuals named as BBSRC’s latest Discovery Fellows demonstrated their aptitude to deliver outstanding science as well as their capability and capacity as future bioscience leaders.

We look forward to tracking their progress and success as they develop their skills, abilities and experiences for the wider benefit of UK bioscience."

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Phone: 0115 7486462

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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