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.
Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants
This module 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
This module 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 and weeds 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.
Plant Biotechnology Industrial visits
The module will cover the application of the latest and emergent biotechnology options for crop improvement. In relation to crop production, this will involve consideration of the genetic engineering of plant species to introduce new traits and new genetic mapping techniques as an aid to conventional plant breeding programmes. The students will visit research institutes and Agri-Biotech companies to see the latest technologies in action. The visits will include days spent at Rothamsted Research, NIAB, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and several plant breeding companies. Instruction will be in the form of lectures and practical demonstrations including cereal transformation, molecular approaches to varietal analysis and image analysis for varietal profiling. A visit to Elsoms Seeds will enable students to see seed quality testing, breeding strategies for vegetable crops, trialling and tissue culture for homozygous plant production.
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.
Advanced Molecular Methods in Biotechnology
This module provides in-depth understanding of manipulating cells and its processes together with the application of this knowledge to genetic engineering. Practical methods involve isolating, characterising and functionally analysing genes. Now we are in an era of ‘’Omics’’. Over the past few years major developments have been made regarding the study of genomes. With advent of next generation and third generation sequencing, whole genome sequences of many species is now available. Such information is revealing a high degree of similarity and conservation between different species and organisms, which in turn is revolutionising the way in which gene function analysis is carried out. An extensive range of post-genomic technologies have been established based on this information and these are revolutionising the analysis that is possible. Case studies will be presented detailing how different approaches have been used to study genomes and how such developments are influencing the way genetic analysis and biotechnological improvement can be made. Particular emphasis will be paid to the importance of bioinformatics and IT in the study of genomes and the commercial biotechnological applications of gene isolation. Hands-on experience of these approaches will be provided via problem-based lab and computer training sessions. The methods explained through way of lectures, tutorials and practical’s are applicable to plants, microbes and animal cells.
Monitoring and Phenotyping
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
The objective of this module is to introduce 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; (2) the use and formulation of integrated control methods- regulatory, cultural, biological, genetic and chemical to successfully manage important diseases below economically damaging levels in temperate and tropical crops.
Literature review, experimental plan and research project
Project areas reflect the current research expertise within the Plant and Crop Sciences Division. Recent examples include: Response to drought in Bambara Groundnut (Vigna subterranea); Identifying hyperspectral radiometry and chlorophyll signatures for biomass productivity and disease in wheat cultivars; Analysis of genes associated with anther and pollen development and self-incompatibility in barley; All projects involve laboratory and/or field work and many involve the introduction and expression of agronomically important genes into crop species using molecular techniques. Prior to commencement of their project students are required to write a comprehensive research proposal inclusive of literature review and experimental plan for assessment in spring semester.
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.