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Whisky fans can drink to crop research

7 July 2005

Research into the genetics of barley could lead to improved varieties of the crop most commonly used in the production of whisky and beer. Scientists funded in part by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are beginning a new programme to uncover key genes that control the specific characteristics of different barley varieties.

The research, being carried out at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, Birmingham University and NIAB, involves almost all barley breeders in the UK and associated end user groups. It aims to identify the genes that influence economically important traits such as yield, disease and pest resistance and how much alcohol can be extracted from the barley during the production of ‘malt’ whisky.

Dr Robbie Waugh, the research leader, said, “We will be using experimental techniques that have been developed in human and other plant genetic studies to analyse a crop that has huge economic importance. We expect to be able to identify the genes that could lead to improvements in the quality of barley that will be of interest to growers, producers and drinkers.”

The research will help to contribute to the Scottish agricultural economy as 50 per cent of the arable land in Scotland is currently used to grow barley. Most of this crop is used to make beer and whisky with the supply chain from farmer to product employing over 13,000 people, mainly in rural communities. Whisky is consistently the biggest food and drink export earner for the UK.

The new £1.8m project "Association Genetics of UK elite Barley" is sponsored by BBSRC, the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) through the Sustainable Arable LINK Programme.

The project has wide industrial support. Industry is contributing 50 per cent towards the cost and the industrial partners include: Advanta Seeds, Coors Brewers UK Ltd, CPB Twyford, Syngenta Seeds Ltd., Nickerson (UK) Ltd., RAGT Seeds, Secobra UK, Svalolf Weibull AB, The Maltsters Association of Great Britain, Scotch Whisky Research Institute and Home Grown Cereals Authority.

ENDS

Notes to editors

This research features in the July 2005 issue of Business, the quarterly magazine of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The research at SCRI is part of an ongoing study into the underlying genetic mechanisms that control yield, quality and sustainability of barley.

The Principal Investigators on the programme are Dr. Robbie Waugh, Dr. Bill Thomas, Dr. Luke Ramsay, Dr David Marshall, Dr. Adrian Newton and Dr. Joanne Russell SCRI, with collaborators Dr. Donal O’Sullivan, Dr Rosemary Bayles and Prof Wayne Powell of NIAB (Cambridge) and Dr. Zewei Luo and Prof Mike Kearsey of the University of Birmingham.

The industrial collaborators and sponsors are: Advanta, CPB Twyfords, Dalgety/Secobra, New Farm Crops, RAGT/PBI, Svalof Weibull, Brewing Research International, SWRI, MAGB, COORS, MRS, HGCA, Crop Evaluation Limited.

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

About SCRI

SCRI increases knowledge in plant and environmental sciences. The research is focused on plants to improve the understanding of processes that regulate their growth and response to pests, pathogens and the environment. This includes understanding genetics to breed crops with improved quality and nutritional value as fast as possible. By understanding the plant’s response to pests and diseases and how they react to the soil, air and water around them, environmentally friendly methods of protecting crops from the ravages of pests, diseases and weeds can be designed.

SCRI is grant-aided by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) and has charitable status. It is one of five Scottish Agricultural and Biological Research Institutes (SABRIs) which, together with those of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, form the agricultural and food research service of the UK. http://www.scri.sari.ac.uk

External contact

Dr Robbie Waugh, Scottish Crop Research Institute

tel: 01382 568584

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382