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Big ears for British wheat

5 July 2005

Scientists at the University of Nottingham are working with researchers in Mexico to develop new varieties of wheat that could combine the best characteristics of British and Mexican types to bring about a quantum leap in yield while increasing the sustainability of UK agriculture.

The researchers are collaborating with the International Centre for Wheat and Maize Improvement (CIMMYT), a relationship strengthened by a recent workshop in Mexico supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). With their CIMMYT colleagues the UK researchers will explore the characteristics of crossing novel Central American varieties of wheat that have bigger and more fertile ears with UK varieties that have smaller ears but higher capacities for photosynthesis.

The research team is using a range of techniques, including comparative genetics, developmental biology and plant physiology, to help them to understand what it is that results in the Mexican varieties having bigger ears. If they could successfully find a way to get UK varieties of wheat to grow with bigger ears then the yield of a crop could potentially be increased in a sustainable way without the need for extra water or fertilizer.

Professor Michael Holdsworth, Professor of Crop Science at the University of Nottingham, said, “We have evidence that UK wheat plants have the capability from photosynthesis to produce more material than they do at the moment but they are limited by the size of their ears. We hope that the research we are doing could lift these limitations and enable traditional crossing between lines so that breeders can produce wheat varieties that would thrive in the British climate but produce much higher yields.”

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, “Sustainable agriculture is a key aim of BBSRC. Research such as this shows how work on the fundamental physiology of a plant could identify the underlying causes of desirably traits, such as larger ears, that could help us to increase yields while reducing the environmental ‘footprint’ of agriculture.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The collaboration between the University of Nottingham and CIMMYT scientists was strengthened by a workshop in Mexico funded by BBSRC with contributions from the commercial plant breeding sector.

BBSRC is the UK’s principal funder of basic plant science research. In 2003 BBSRC undertook a consultation and review of the future direction of its crop science research. The review made its recommendations in early 2004.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

External contact

Professor Michael Holdsworth, University of Nottingham

tel: 0115 951 6046

Tim Utton, University of Nottingham Press Office

tel: 0115 846 8092

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382