Science and industry join forces to deliver better crops

26 Apr 2012 14:42:34.900

PA 123/12

Plant scientists at The University of Nottingham are to deliver two of nine new industry relevant crop science projects to boost efforts to ensure future food security.

The nine projects represent an investment of over £4 million by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Scottish Government and 14 companies including plant breeders, farmers and food processors. They are part of the BBSRC’s Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC) which is aimed at delivering improvements to the main UK cereal crops — oilseed rape, barley and wheat.

Based in the School of Biosciences, Dr Martin Broadley, an expert in plant nutrition and Professor Zoe Wilson, who specialises in developmental genetics in plants, will lead the two Nottingham projects.

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The public and private members of CIRC work together to decide where the group’s research should be focused. This ensures that funding is directed to where it can be most useful in delivering improvements that will eventually benefit the consumer. The scientific outputs of CIRC projects are shared at regular dissemination events to make sure that the industrial partners can make use of any new advances as soon as possible.

Some of the projects aim to overcome bottlenecks that currently cause inefficiencies in food production. By helping producers to overcome these, the research could help to reduce waste, improve quality and deliver cost savings benefitting wider society.

Dr Broadley’s study will deliver a low-cost, high-throughput root phenotyping screens for arable crops. He said: “We are testing new methods of examining the root systems of crop plants in their early stages of growth. Currently the crop breeding industry do not typically select for root traits during breeding, yet these are potentially very valuable for improving crop establishment and yield. In this project we will be studying the roots of oil-seed rape crop, barley and wheat plants.”

Professor Wilson will lead a project to develop a Cereal Fertility Pipeline (CerFip) for wheat and barley. She said: “We will apply knowledge that we have gained from our work on pollen development in model plants, such as Arabidopsis and rice, to the key UK cereals, wheat and barley. This will generate resources and knowledge for the regulation of male fertility, which is important for plant breeding and in particular hybrid development, since hybrids tend to show 20-30 per cent enhanced yield. This will therefore help to ensure future global food security.”

Dr Simon Hook, Chairman of the CIRC Steering Group said: “We’re very excited about the potential of these projects to generate findings of real value to plant breeders, and food growers and processors. The projects funded in the second call complement those of the first call and hence cover a wide range of topics that will benefit all involved from breeders to consumers.  No one company could hope to undertake the sort of research that CIRC enables but by clubbing together with the help of public funders we hope to make improvements across the industry to deliver real benefits.”

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: “We cannot hope to meet the enormous food security challenge without harnessing the strengths of both the academic research community and those of industry. Only by working together, as we do in CIRC, can we make sure that the fantastic fundamental research that our scientific community excels at can be directed to where it will be most useful.”

The research currently funded by CIRC is directed at a number of specific challenges, including helping plants to use nutrients more efficiently, developing a better understanding of germination and investigating the factors that control pest and disease resistance.

Amongst the projects being funded by this round of CIRC are an investigation into how we can breed UK wheat to produce better bread, with lower levels of salts, fats and emulsifiers. Another project will look to help improve yields of oilseed rape, an important crop for oil and animal feed, by studying how the plants foster beneficial microorganisms amongst their roots. Two projects funded by CIRC are hoping to grow better barley crops that are easier to process during brewing and distilling.

This is the second round of investment by the BBSRC-led Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC) complementing £3 million of projects that were announced in June last year. The six projects funded in the first round of investment are meeting this month in Warwick to discuss the preliminary outcomes of their work.

The company members of CIRC are:

•    BASF Plant Science Company GMBH
•    Campden Technology Ltd
•    Elsoms Seeds
•    HGCA
•    KWS UK Ltd
•    Limagrain UK Ltd
•    Monsanto UK Ltd
•    National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim)
•    RAGT Seeds Ltd
•    The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI)
•    Syngenta Seeds Ltd
•    United Oilseeds Marketing Ltd

•    Velcourt

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Story credits

More information is available from Dr Martin Broadley, at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 6382,; or Professor Zoe Wilson, at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 3235,; or Mike Davies at the BBSRC on +44 (0)1793 414 694,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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