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Growing crops to cope with climate change

18 January 2006

Scientists at the UK’s leading plant science centre have uncovered a gene that could help to develop new varieties of crop that will be able to cope with the changing world climate. Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have identified the gene in barley that controls how the plant responds to seasonal changes in the length of the day. This is key to understanding how plants have adapted their flowering behaviour to different environments.

The John Innes Centre researchers have discovered that the Ppd-H1 gene in barley controls the timing of the activity of another gene called CO. When the length of the day is long enoughCO activates one of the key genes that triggers flowering. Naturally occurring variation in Ppd-H1 affects the time of day when CO is activated. This shifts the time of year that the plant flowers.

Dr David Laurie, the research leader at the John Innes Centre, said, “Growing crops will become more difficult as the global climate changes. The varieties of crops grown in the UK are suited to the soil, seasons and traditional cool, wet summers. Later flowering in barley means it has a longer growing period to amass yield. If British summers get hotter and drier we will need types of wheat, barley and other crops that flower earlier, like Mediterranean varieties, to beat summer droughts. However, new varieties will need to be adapted in all other ways to UK conditions.“

With the new knowledge about the workings of barley researchers and plant breeders will find it easier to select variations that will thrive in the UK environment but will also flower earlier, coping with hotter summers.

Dr Laurie commented, “Although our research has been on barley we know from observation that other crops show similar variation in the way they respond to the lengthening of the day in springtime. We are confident that we will find equivalent genes in other key crops."

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said, “Climate change presents a huge challenge for the world. Although every effort must be concentrated on reducing the impact of human activity on the environment, science should also be answering questions about how we can live in an altered climate. Research such as this helps to present answers to some of these problems.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

This story appears in the January 2006 edition of Business, the quarterly research highlights magazine of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

About John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich, UK is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences. The JIC has over 850 staff and students. JIC carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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

Dr David Laurie, John Innes Centre

tel: 01603 450610

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382