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Future Food is one of the University of Nottingham’s Beacons of Excellence, established as part of an unprecedented and exciting investment in research and people.

The multi-disciplinary Future Food will undertake a coherent and integrated portfolio of challenge-led research, doctoral training and knowledge exchange activities.

Our mission is to build on our reputation as world leaders in addressing the challenge of increasing supplies of nutritious food to a growing global population within a changing environment.

We combine the power of genome-enabled plant and animal sciences with cutting-edge nutritional sciences, food processing and manufacturing technologies. Our molecule-to-meal strengths are underpinned by understanding of the economic, legal, social and ethical issues that shape food systems.

This is an exciting time to join world-leading researchers in addressing a key challenge of our times.

Below you can find out more from some of our newest staff members and why they have joined Future Food.

Dr Guillermina Mendiondo

Dr Guillermina Mendiondo is studying how plants respond to their environment. Understanding these biological mechanisms will help secure food security through more resilient, better-yielding crops. She is a Nottingham Research Fellow with the Future Food Beacon of Excellence.

Guillermina Mendiondo

Why Nottingham and why the Future Food beacon?

I truly enjoy working in this multidisciplinary place where different subjects combine to produce high-quality research. For example, in my crop science studies, which are mostly based in molecular biology approaches, I have the opportunity to collaborate with plant physiologists, ecologists, soil scientists, and bioinformaticians. Also, as a Nottingham Research fellow I benefit from great facilities and really helpful technical support. As an early career researcher, I also benefit form the University’s mentoring system which truly supports my career development. Also, the School of Biosciences is currently involved in several doctoral training partnerships and, for me, being a PhD supervisor is one of the most rewarding parts of being an academic.

The people that you work with make a huge difference to how you feel inside an institution. I am very grateful to the many colleagues who helped me start and develop my research career in Nottingham.

I am happy and proud to be part of one of the University of Nottingham’s Beacons of Excellence. Belonging to the beacons community will bring me amazing opportunities, and gives me a sense of belonging. My project aligns very closely with the vision of Future Food.. Given expected global population growth and the challenge of climate change, my aim is to understand the biological mechanisms that regulate crop response to environmental stresses and ultimately control yield stability and crop quality.

How would you explain your research?

I am interested in plant-environment interactions; how plants sense environmental change.  I am currently identifying promising proteins that affect yield and crop quality in agriculturally important crops, such as barley. Also, I am interested in the hormonal regulation of seed dormancy and germination.

My research has a direct impact in the plant-breeding industry. My work opens the way to the development of crops with increased stress resistance and yield stability in both marginal lands and areas greatly affected by climate change.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I grew up in city surrounded by an active a rural area. My childhood memory of the smell of grain after harvest is still very present. I also remember how the mood of the city was affected by a bad or good year, as the economy of the city was very much linked to the productivity of the fields.

I have a degree in Biology but then I moved to Agronomy for my PhD program. I like applied science and crop sciences offered me the best of both worlds.

I was inspired by many great people including supervisors and mentors. I enjoy the daily life of plant science research, including the laboratory, the fields and even the relaxing moments!

How will your research affect the average person?

I feel privileged to work towards food security within the realm of sustainable agricultural practices.

My research may lead to the production of crops with increased drought tolerance and/or lower water demands during cultivation. This is a pioneer study in the field of crop science. The plant lines I am developing will be tested in the field, as opposed to laboratory conditions. These non-GMO [non genetically modified organism] mutant plants, which hold altered components of N-end rule pathway. Changes to these cell proteins used by plants to sense and respond to their environment – such as water and oxygen levels - have already shown increased tolerance to abiotic stresses like waterlogging and drought.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I had several exciting moments in my research career; some relate to research results and some to the interaction with the research community and students.

How will being based at UoN and joining Future Food help you achieve your goals?

Joining the Future Food Beacon has been highly beneficial to my career. For example, I was allowed the opportunity to create my own research group where we conduct research at the highest level. Besides, it allows me to capitalise from my previous collaborations with the industry as well as with several international universities.

What aspects of your research and role are you looking forward to?

I aspire to establish my position as an international crop science researcher based at the University of Nottingham. As a crop science researcher I will direct my studies to the improvement of livelihoods and increased food security. This way I will be giving the community something back for the many opportunities I have benefited from so far.

Dr Michael Pound

Computer scientist Dr Michael Pound’s research focuses on the development of novel computer vision techniques, allowing us to harvest information from Nottingham’s world-leading bio-imaging capabilities, and advance our understanding of plants. He is a Nottingham Research Fellow and member of the Future Food Beacon of Excellence.

Michael Pound

What is your role with the beacon? 

As a Nottingham Research Fellow, I will be developing and applying modern computer vision techniques to the challenging domain of plant phenotyping. If we are to understand plant development, we must be able to measure them quickly and accurately. I will be working on numerous projects within the beacon, bringing modern computing power to bear on tasks that would otherwise take hundreds of hours for humans.

Why Nottingham and why the Future Food beacon?

Nottingham is a world leader in plant phenotyping. The University has long-established collaborations in this area, and the Hounsfield Facility offers state-of-the-art facilities for root imaging in soil. I will be working to match these facilities with equally accurate shoot imaging techniques, both within glass-house and field environments.

How would you explain your research?

Despite recent advances, computer vision still lags some way behind the human visual system. We can compare and measure objects very quickly, usually from a single angle. Humans can even do this with extremely complex objects, such as plants. However, it’s not feasible for a person to sit and measure thousands of plants every day, we need ways to automate this. I work jointly with bioscientists to apply modern computer vision techniques to their challenging images, providing accurate measurement of 2D and 3D shape information of plants. This information feeds back into their research, where they use it to explain the underlying mechanisms of how plants grow.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I find that working in a collaborative area such as this offers me the chance to address interesting problems with real-world impact. I also get to work with a variety of world-class researchers from many domains, which ensures that my work is always engaging and rewarding.

How will your research affect the average person?

Data from my imaging approaches will be used to inform plant breeding and genomic research. In turn, this research will have a huge impact on the ongoing problem of global food security. Developing bigger, healthier plants that can grow in challenging environments is a pressing issue, but one where we can have huge impact. Novel imaging approaches I develop can also be used outside of plant imaging, such as in medical image analysis, further benefitting the public.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I’ve had a very rewarding career so far, throughout my PhD and time as a post-doc. Perhaps my favourite bit was when I released some new tools based on my algorithms, allowing biologists to quickly measure their root systems. Very quickly these tools were adopted by the research community, they have now seen thousands of downloads and are in use throughout the world.

How will being based at the University of Nottingham and joining Future Food help you achieve your goals?

Nottingham has world-class facilities to support my research. The Future Food beacon will allow me to collaborate with a variety of researchers from different backgrounds, on new and exciting projects. The beacon also has a strong mentoring program, which will allow me to establish myself as an independent researcher within the University.

What aspects of your research and role are you looking forward to?

I am very excited by the idea of using new deep learning approaches to drive automated camera equipment. Fixed cameras have limited our ability to collect the best images, I believe that we can transform image capture using new artificial intelligence methods. This is also a very interesting research question; can a computer learn to perform the same task as an expert human operator?

The Future Food beacon will also support a very wide variety of projects, I will be able to attend workshops and foster collaborations with more researchers, applying for funding and building a team to take on these interesting and important challenges.





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