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Shatter resistant brassicas

Visit John Innes Centre website

27 May 2009

An international team of scientists has cracked the problem of pod shatter in brassica crops such as oilseed rape.

Just before harvest, oilseed rape pods are prone to shatter, causing a 10-25% loss of seeds and up to 70% in some cases.

“By artificially producing a hormone in a specific region of the fruit, we have stopped the fruit opening in the related model plant Arabidopsis, completely sealing the seeds inside,” says Dr Lars Østergaard from the John Innes Centre. “We need to refine the process for use in agriculture to reduce seed loss but still allowing them to be easily harvested.”

The scientists discovered that the absence of the hormone auxin in a layer of cells in the fruit is necessary for the fruit to open. Two stripes of tissue form where no auxin is present, and these separate to open the pod.

It is already known that proper plant development, such as organ growth and patterning, requires specific hormones to accumulate in specific regions. This is the first time that removal of a hormone has been found to be important for cell fate and growth.

Oilseed rape is grown for its tiny black oil-containing seeds, prized for cooking oil and margarines low in saturated fat, and increasingly for biodiesel. The meal that remains after oil extraction is also used as a high protein animal feed.

Brassica plants normally disperse their seeds by a pod-shattering mechanism. Although this mechanism is an advantage in nature, it is one of the biggest problems in farming oilseed rape. As well as losing valuable seeds, it results in runaway ‘volunteer’ seedlings that contaminate the next crop in the rotation cycle.

If rape seeds are harvested early to get round the problem, immature seeds may be collected which are of an inferior quality.

Oilseed rape is relatively undeveloped in breeding terms when compared to wheat and other crops. It retains characteristics of a wild plant including maximising seed dispersal. JIC scientists are also researching genetic solutions to reduce pod shatter and to improve breeding of the crop.

The John Innes Centre is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  BBSRC funds Dr Lars Østergaard’s work and has also contributed to this project through core funding of the John Innes Centre.

Professor Janet Allen, Director of Research, BBSRC said: “With a growing global population we must increase food production significantly within 20 years. With current yield improvements beginning to plateau, the value of this kind of fundamental research is becoming even more significant. Knowledge gained in this way will underpin future technological developments, but it takes time to do this; 20 years from lab to field is not an unreasonable expectation in terms of time scale.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Reference: ‘A regulated auxin minimum is required for seed dispersal in Arabidopsis’, Nature Letters, doi:10.1038/nature07875.

The research was funded through a core strategic grant from the BBSRC and through grants from the FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders) Odysseus Programme and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

About the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and 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 £450M 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. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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