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£7M for public wheat pre-breeding programme announced

21 February 2011

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has today announced a £7 million grant to a consortium of researchers to increase the diversity of traits available in wheat via a comprehensive pre-breeding programme - the first of its kind in the UK in over 20 years. This project will be important to ensure the sustainability of wheat production in the UK and beyond at a time when we are facing a growing global population and changing environment.

The various available genetic backgrounds for a particular species are collectively referred to as germplasm. This project will identify new and useful genetic variation from ancient sources of wheat germplasm to accelerate the genetic improvement of modern UK wheat for the benefit of UK farming. Through free and open international collaboration, including the coordination of similar initiatives currently being planned across the world, the resources and knowledge generated in this project will contribute to global food security.

Professor Graham Moore, the John Innes Centre, who leads the consortium said "There is an urgent need to improve yields of wheat; it is estimated that in the next 50 years we will need to harvest as much wheat as has been produced since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago!"

The research will be carried out at the John Innes Centre, the University of Bristol, NIAB, The University of Nottingham, and Rothamsted Research and aims to underpin and enhance wheat breeding activities in the UK and beyond.

The main thrust of the research will be to understand the genetics behind factors affecting wheat yield such as drought tolerance, plant shape and size, and resistance to pests and diseases. And then with this understanding, cross different strains of wheat to produce the germplasm required for breeding. They will also generate a database of genetic markers, which can be used for so-called precision breeding.

The new germplasm generated in this project will be exploited by breeders for crossing with their elite lines to develop new varieties for use by farmers. All the information generated in the programme will be stored in a central database, and seed stored centrally in the UK, both being freely available to both academics and breeders alike.

Members of the breeding industry have been consulted from the conception of the project to ensure that the germplasm developed is useful for commercial breeding programmes.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Food security and sustainability are amongst the biggest challenges facing the world today, especially as the population continues to grow. I am delighted that for the first time in over 20 years UK scientists will be leading on such an important area of research. This investment has the potential to make a real difference to people and farmers, whilst at the same time increasing our body of scientific knowledge."

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills, BBSRC said "We are delighted that this group of researchers has considered at the earliest point how to ensure that opportunities are immediately taken to translate their work into products that have both social and economic impact in the UK. Having the lines of communication firmly established at this stage offers a great vehicle for exchange of knowledge, ideas and technology as this project progresses."

Key members of the research consortium are:

  • Professor Graham Moore, John Innes Centre (lead)
  • Dr Simon Griffiths, John Innes Centre
  • Professor Keith Edwards, University of Bristol
  • Professor John Foulkes, The University of Nottingham
  • Professor Andy Greenland, NIAB
  • Professor Ian King, The University of Nottingham
  • Professor Peter Shewry, Rothamsted Research

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "This is a tremendously exciting project for BBSRC and the UK as a whole. We have world-class expertise in wheat research and as our most important staple food, this work will be essential for future food security in the UK."

BBSRC contributes to Global Food Security - a multi-agency programme bringing together the research interests of the Research Councils, Executive Agencies and Government Departments.

ENDS

About The University of Bristol

The University of Bristol is globally distinguished and one of the very best universities in the UK. It is a thriving international community dedicated to learning, discovery and enterprise, a world leader in research and a member of the Worldwide Universities Network and of the Russell Group of UK universities.

About the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, an institute of the BBSRC, is a world-leading research centre based on Norwich Research Park www.nrp.org.uk. Its mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy.

About NIAB

NIAB is a major international centre for plant science, crop evaluation and agronomy, with headquarters in Cambridge and regional offices across the country. NIAB spans the crop development pipeline, combining within a single resource the specialist knowledge, skills and facilities required to support the improvement of agricultural and horticultural crop varieties, to evaluate their performance and quality, and to ensure these advances are transferred into on-farm practice through efficient agronomy.

With an internationally recognised reputation for independence, innovation and integrity, NIAB is ideally placed to meet the industry's current and future research, information and knowledge transfer needs.

As NIAB TAG we conduct field crops research and provide impartial variety and crop husbandry information. The NIAB TAG knowledge base is drawn from extensive staff expertise, research data and field trials from over 20 locations in England. It is widely utilised by the agricultural community and through the NIAB TAG Network influences more than 20% of the UK's arable area.

For more information log onto www.niab.com

About The University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as 'the embodiment of the modern international university', has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named 'Europe's greenest university' in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world's most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University's vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom's Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. The North Wyke site is located near Okehampton in Devon and focuses on grassland research. Rothamsted Research is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

For further information, please contact the Rothamsted Research Press Office. Dr Adélia de Paula (Tel: 01582 763133 ext 2260 or e-mail adelia.depaula@bbsrc.ac.uk).

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

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.