Crop Improvement MSc


Fact file

MSc Crop Improvement
1 year full-time
Entry requirements
At least a second class honours degree in any Biological, Chemical or Physical Science subject (e.g. Biochemistry, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Genetics, Food Sciences, Microbiology, Plant Sciences, Physics)
Other requirements
Applicants holding other qualifications may also be accepted but may be required to attend additional courses and/or to register initially for the Diploma, with the opportunity to progress to the MSc.
6.0 (no less than 5.5 in any element)

If these grades are not met, English preparatory courses are available
Start date
Sutton Bonington Campus
Tuition fees
You can find fee information on our fees table.


This course examines crop improvement through advances in resource use efficiency and modern crop improvement and breeding techniques.
Read full overview

This course examines crop improvement through advances in resource use efficiency, and modern crop improvement and breeding techniques.

Focusing upon the understanding of plant to crop systems, and with an emphasis on research training, the course is ideally suited to those wishing to pursue careers in research institutes, plant breeding, agro-industry and advance to higher research degree (PhD) study.

Whilst the course is based at the School of Biosciences, Sutton Bonington Campus, students will have an opportunity to see practical aspects of agriculture in other parts of the UK through visits to growers, farms, research stations and other academic institutions.

Key facts

The University has one of the largest plant and crop sciences divisions in the UK with 20 permanent academic staff, based at the Sutton Bonington Campus. Students have an exciting opportunity to study with world renowned researchers in this important and rapidly advancing field which offers major career opportunities in agro-industry, academia and research institutes.

  • The school is ranked the no.1 research environment in the UK (for agriculture, veterinary and food science) in the 2014 REF (Research Excellence Framework). 97% of our work (in the Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary Medicine and Science ) was judged to be of international quality.
  • Specialist facilities include modern glasshouses and controlled environment growth rooms in which plants and tissue cultures can be raised, together with excellent facilities for fieldwork
  • The school also has a Tropical Crops Research Unit in which computer controlled glasshouses are available for research on a range of tropical species.

Course details

Through taught modules and a research project, the course aims to give you an advanced knowledge and comprehensive understanding of the theoretical, practical and transferable skills of crop improvement and allied industries.

You will also develop an awareness of the latest developments and requirements of agro-industry in the area of crop improvement. 

Finally, this course will give you the technical knowledge and practical skills required to undertake research and/or develop a leading career in the field of crop improvement and related agro-industries.

Course location

The school is based on the Sutton Bonington Campus, a self-contained site only 20km south of Nottingham. Sutton Bonington is an easy bus or car journey to University Park Campus and to Nottingham City, with free bus service connections between campuses. Two other major UK cities, Derby and Leicester are nearby. East Midlands International Airport is 7Km away, plus there are fast rail links to London close by.

Students can choose to carry out their research project at the University’s Malaysia Campus.



The programme requires 180 credits for completion and is based on two semesters of taught modules (120 credits) and a Research Project (60 credits) which spans both semesters and the summer period.

All modules are compulsory. (Modules subject to change)

  • Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants 

Introduces students to the origins of crop plants, basic breeding methods and examines how biotechnology may be able to contribute. Crops covered include temperate and tropical, annual and perennial, inbreeding and out-breeding, with an emphasis on how genetic improvement will be achieved in the near future, while recognising the potential of novel techniques and varying priorities in the face of a changing climate. In particular, the value of molecular markers, genomic approaches, genetic modification and the development of physiological ideotypes to produce progress in commercial breeding programmes will be examined. These different strands are drawn together at the end of the module to examine how genetics, breeding and physiology can all play a part in a modern crop breeding programme.

  • Resource Capture by Crops

Introduces the key processes by which crops capture and use physical resources, principally solar radiation, water and nutrients. Emphasis is first placed on the underlying physical and biological mechanisms of capture and utilisation by both individuals and communities of plants. For example: an appreciation of crop canopy structure, plant physiology (photosynthesis and respiration) and the physical nature of light is required to understand the limitations to crop radiation use efficiency. Case studies are used throughout. Secondly, strategies for crop improvement and management to improve resource use efficiency are discussed. 

  • Principles of Crop Science 

This module considers the characteristics and management of the major soil groups and how cropping is affected by soil type. The principles of crop nutrition are introduced alongside the principles of cultural and chemical control of pests, weeds and diseases in arable crops, and the potential impact on the environment of these practices. The module concludes by considering how rotations, nutrition and crop protection can be considered together in an Integrated crop management system. 

  • Fundamental and Applied Aspects of Plant Genetic Manipulation

Innovative techniques for genetic manipulation of plants are presented against a background of a continuing need for plant improvement in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Other topics include cell fusion technology for novel hybrid production, the development of plant transformation systems including Agrobacterium-mediated gene delivery, direct DNA uptake and biolistics; vector design; molecular methods in crop improvement are discussed alongside the value of gene mapping and genetic fingerprinting for germplasm evaluation.

  • Plant Genetic Manipulation: Practical Techniques  

Laboratory-based instruction in conventional and non-conventional techniques of plant hybridisation, including in vitro pollination, Agrobacterium-induced transformation using wild-type and engineered strains, tissue culture and micropropagation, fusion of protoplasts, plasmid isolation for DNA uptake studies, RAPD and microsatellite analyses for confirmation of hybridity/DNA fingerprinting, biolistics, analyses of transgenic plants (PCR and RT-PCR), Southern analyses, chromosome preparations and physiological analyses of transgenic plants. 

  • Statistics and Experimental Design for Bioscientists 

This module explains the major principles and techniques of statistical analysis of research data without becoming too involved in the underlying mathematics. Now that computer software is very well established for data analysis, it is more important to understand WHAT a statistical test is doing (and thus whether or not it is appropriate) than to be able to perform the underlying calculations by hand. It is equally important to collect data in an appropriate and planned manner for later analysis. At the end of the course, participants should have an overall grasp of the major analytical techniques available, and how they relate to each other, and have developed abilities in experimental design, data analysis using appropriate software and presentation of results. 

  • Plant Biotechnology

This module covers the application of the latest biotechnology options for crop improvement and production, including plant products for non-food uses, toxicology of natural pharmacologically active constituents and the use of transgenic plant technology for medical purposes. A series of linked practical sessions involve comparisons of mutant with wild-type Arabidopsis lines, since their different morphologies may have commercial and research applications, particularly in crop species. On-line bioinformatics analysis of the genes involved in these phenotypes is undertaken.

Students also probe transcriptomic databases to determine how gene expression influences plant development. Off-site visits (IACR-Rothamsted, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, National Institute of Agricultural Botany and biotechnology and seed companies) provide students with first-hand knowledge of how biotechnology is being utilised by agro-industry. Areas include plant breeders rights, the impact of genetically modified organisms and environmental monitoring, molecular approaches to varietal profiling, seed quality testing, transformation technology for modifying plant metabolism and modern breeding perspectives and strategies in a commercial context. 

  • Crop Research Techniques

This module provides students with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with techniques for crop research with emphasis on resource capture and utilisation by plant communities. The principles of measurement, data acquisition and interpretation, meteorological measurements and soil and plant analysis are all considered in this module.A central (and popular) part of this module is the ‘crop monitoring exercise’ in which students design and conduct their own field experimentation by monitoring growth and development in a crop of their own choice. Modern equipment is used for measuring plants and the environment. 

  • Current Issues in Crop Science

This integrative module considers future options and possible strategies for crop production in UK and world agriculture. Students are introduced to a number of issues that have current or possible future impacts on crop production systems and the environment. Examples of issues that will be addressed include: the future of genetically modified crops, impact of crop production on biodiversity and prospects for organic crop production. The content will change every year to reflect current issues in crop science.

  • Integrated Disease Management

This module introduces the concept of integrated disease management in sustainable crop production. Successful disease management strategies are based on specific information regarding the socioeconomics of the farming system, associated environment, crop and pathogen population dynamics and availability of multiple integrated measures to control important diseases below economically damaging levels. This module will cover: (1) the principles of plant disease epidemiology and crop loss including the use of epidemiological studies to devise effective control strategies against crop diseases, and (2) the use and formulation of integrated control methods to successfully manage important diseases below economically damaging levels in temperate and tropical crops. 

  • Research Project

As part of their course, all students are required to do a major research project throughout which they have the help and specialist advice of an academic supervisor. A wide range of topics is available within the research interests of members of the school, and students can also choose to carry out their research project at the University’s Malaysia Campus. Students receiving industrial sponsorship will normally be required to do a project in a subject area specified by the sponsor. Throughout the project, particular emphasis is placed on the analysis, interpretation, and presentation of results.

The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislation changes. This list is an example of typical modules we offer, not a definitive list.



UK/EU students

General information on funding for both research and taught degrees, applicable to UK/HEU students is available on the University's Graduate School pages. 

Government loans for masters courses

The Government offers postgraduate student loans of up to £10,280 for students studying a taught or research masters course. Applicants must ordinarily live in England or the EU. Student loans are also available for students from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international and EU students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure your course application is submitted in good time.

Information and advice on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study is available on our website, as well as country-specific resources.



Graduates have a wide range of career options. The reputation of the School of Biosciences as a centre of excellence means that a large proportion of our graduates continue with studies leading to a PhD either at Nottingham or elsewhere. The course is also ideal for those wishing to pursue careers in research institutes, plant breeding and agro-industry. Many graduates obtain employment in the agricultural industry as advisors or practitioners, or at research institutes in the UK or overseas.

Some example careers include:

  • Crop Scientist within the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) – Africa
  • Crop Trials Research Manager
  • Research posts in Government Agriculture Departments
  • Agronomist
  • Technical and Sales positions in the Agro-Food Industry

Average starting salary and career progression

In 2016, 94% of postgraduates in the School of Biosciences who were available for employment had secured work or further study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary was £24,495 with the highest being £37,000.*

*Known destinations of full-time home undergraduates 2015/16. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

Career Prospects and Employability

The University of Nottingham is consistently named as one of the most targeted universities by Britain’s leading graduate employers** and 
can offer you a head-start when it comes to your career. 

Those who take up a postgraduate research opportunity with us will not only receive support in terms of close contact with supervisors and 
specific training related to your area of research, you will also benefit from dedicated careers advice from our Careers and Employability Service

Our Careers and Employability Service offers a range of services including advice sessions, employer events, recruitment fairs and skills 
workshops – and once you have graduated, you will have access to the service for life.

** The Graduate Market 2013-2016, High Fliers Research.

Explore it - Virtual Nottingham

This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

Get in touch
+44 (0)115 951 6049  
Make an enquiry


Dr Rumiana Ray
School of Biosciences
The University of Nottingham
Sutton Bonington Campus
LE12 5RD
Science videos

Science videos


Student Recruitment Enquiries Centre

The University of Nottingham
King's Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

t: +44 (0) 115 951 5559
f: +44 (0) 115 951 5812
w: Frequently asked questions
Make an enquiry