Share this page:
Other services (opens in new window)
Sets a cookie

BBSRC at Cereals 2011: New projects to develop improved crops for food security

15 June 2011

On the morning of the first day of Cereals 2011, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is pleased to announce the first of two tranches of projects to be funded by the £7M Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC). These projects, funded by BBSRC, the Scottish Government and 14 companies representing plant breeders, farmers and food processors, will carry out research to improve the quality and yield of oilseed rape, barley and wheat. BBSRC staff and researchers will be available at stand I945 at Cereals to discuss these and other projects as well as running a panel event each day.

The second round of funding from CIRC is now available and the deadline is 29 June 2011.

There is a significant challenge to feed a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050. Oilseed rape, barley and wheat are key crops for human and animal consumption and as such their improvement will be central to mitigating a future food security crisis.

The six projects will run for up to five years and focus on a range of problems including improving yield, developing pest and disease resistance, seed dispersal control (e.g. to reduce losses through pod shatter in oilseed rape), and improving traits for processing.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "The Crop Improvement Research Club has created a tremendous opportunity for excellent research to contribute to future food security. The research funded by the club is of relevance to the development of commercial varieties of oilseed rape, barley and wheat, and as such will ensure the high quality research has an impact on the sustainability of food production in the near future."

Dr Simon Hook, representing HGCA and chair of the CIRC steering group said "These six projects, selected from an initial 46, are very exciting; expertise within the academic community is absolutely vital to future food security in the UK and beyond. We hope that the support for this work from the plant breeder, food grower and processor community will enable these excellent researchers to generate new knowledge and enhance the fundamental science of oilseed rape, barley and wheat leading to increased productivity and quality. With this knowledge we can work together to develop improved varieties that contribute to more sustainable food production."

The six projects are:

  • Development and validation of a flexible genotyping platform for wheat
    Keith Edwards, University of Bristol

    This project aims to develop tools and technologies that make it easier to do targeted breeding to create new varieties of wheat. In particular, this could be used to improve yield and pest and disease resistance, including in commercial lines.
  • Increased pest resistance in oilseed rape mediated by an enhanced UV-B response
    Gareth Jenkins, University of Glasgow

    When exposed to UV-B wavelengths of light, the chemical composition of oilseed rape changes such that herbivores such as insects, slugs and snails are less inclined to eat the plants - they are less tasty. This project aims to find a way to increase the chemicals that deter these pests from destroying this valuable and important crop.
  • Exploring knowledge of gene function to combat pod shatter in oilseed rape
    Lars Østergaard, John Innes Centre

    One of the main ways that oilseed rape harvests are reduced is through a phenomenon known as "pod shatter", which is where seed pods open prematurely and the seed is lost to the environment. This project aims to transfer knowledge gained from studying the laboratory plant, Arabidopsis, and apply it to high-yielding, UK-elite oilseed rape varieties to help fix this problem.
  • Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency
    Alison Smith, John Innes Centre

    Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.
  • Manipulation of photosynthetic carbon metabolism in wheat to improve yield
    Martin Parry, Rothamsted Research

    This project investigates the possibility of improved yield and efficiency of wheat by increasing the performance of photosynthesis - the process by which plants use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make sugars.
  • Exploiting sources of resistance to Turnip yellows virus for deployment in oilseed rape
    John Walsh, University of Warwick

    Turnip yellows virus can reduce the seed yield of oilseed rape crops in the UK by up to 30%. Infected plants are largely symptomless and hence most farmers are unaware of the presence of the virus. This project looks to oilseed rape plants and wild relatives that have natural resistance to this virus with a view to identifying genetic markers that can be used for introducing these resistances into commercial varieties via modern breeding techniques.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Crop Improvement Research Club Industry Partners

  • BASF Plant Science Company GMBH
  • Campden Technology Limited
  • Elsoms Seeds
  • HGCA
  • KWS UK Ltd
  • Limagrain UK Ltd
  • Monsanto UK Limited
  • National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim)
  • RAGT Seeds Ltd
  • The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI)
  • Secobra Recherches
  • Syngenta Seeds Ltd
  • United Oilseeds Marketing Ltd
  • Velcourt

Further details on projects

Development and validation of a flexible genotyping platform for wheat
Keith Edwards, University of Bristol

Developing new strategies to enable UK wheat breeders to breed for yield and pest and disease resistance by marker-assisted selection underpins the UK's strategy to generate improved wheat varieties. Academic laboratories, genotyping service providers and breeding companies use MAS to track the inheritance of a host of loci controlling desirable traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and yield. Until recently most wheat laboratories used microsatellite markers in their MAS projects, however, for wheat a new type of marker called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) are now becoming available. SNPs are easy to use and they can be automated with relative ease. However, in wheat the task of identifying useful SNPs polymorphisms is problematical due to its complex and large genome.

This project aims to utilise the wealth of wheat genome sequencing data now available to identify useful SNP markers for use in marker-assisted selection. To do this, the two academic partners; the John Innes Centre, and the University of Bristol, will work closely with the genotyping company KBioscience, to both validate SNPs as a marker system in wheat and transfer the SNP markers, as working assays, to UK wheat breeders.

Increased pest resistance in oilseed rape mediated by an enhanced UV-B response
Gareth Jenkins, University of Glasgow

Attack by insects and other herbivorous pests causes significant losses to the oilseed rape crop and considerable expense is incurred in trying to counter this problem by using pesticides. The aim of this project is to undertake research to underpin the development of new oilseed rape varieties with increased resistance to insect herbivory and hence reduced requirement for pesticide input. The project will employ a novel approach, based on the response of plants to UV-B wavelengths, which are a natural component of sunlight. Exposure of plants to UV-B has been shown to reduce their attractiveness to insect herbivores by altering plant chemical composition. Several plant responses to UV-B are controlled by a protein called UVR8, which Professor Jenkins and his collaborators recently discovered detects UV-B light. The project will investigate how knowledge of UV-B perception and the cellular mechanisms of the UV-B response can be exploited to deter insect pests.

Exploring knowledge of gene function to combat pod shatter in oilseed rape
Lars Ostergaard, John Innes Centre

This project aims to reduce loss of oilseed rape crops due to the premature opening of fruit, known as pod shatter - a phenomenon that leads to annual losses of over 10% on average and can lead to the loss of more than 70% of the crop in particularly windy conditions, when wet weather delays harvest, or if a hailstorm hits the field when the crop is ripe.

In addition to a significant yield loss, the prematurely released seeds fall to the ground and germinate to become weeds (volunteers) and contaminate the harvest of the following year. This severely inhibits the crop rotation practice used by many farmers and is therefore also damaging to the environment.

The researchers will use knowledge gained from studying the model plant Arabidopsis to examine the genetics behind the regulation of fruit opening in UK elite oilseed rape varieties. They will also learn about the mechanism of fruit opening to enable them to fine-tune the pod shatter trait in future varieties.

Fruits from Arabidopsis are remarkably similar to fruits from oilseed rape. In the past decade some of the key genetic regulators of fruit opening in Arabidopsis have been identified, and the researchers have shown that these factors also function in species that are closely related to oilseed rape. In this project they will manipulate and adjust the activity of a particular gene by the isolation of mutant plants and assessment of their performance in pod shatter-resistance tests. They will also use mutated lines to expand their knowledge about the mechanism of fruit opening.

Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency
Alison Smith, John Innes Centre

This project aims to reduce losses during the malting process, which is part of beer and whisky production. The researchers will identify genes in barley that are important in determining the efficiency of malting by investigating the effects of natural plant products on loss of starch throughout the process.

Malting involves soaking barley grains in water so that they start to germinate and produce enzymes that can convert starch in the grain into sugars during the next process (mashing). The sugars are then converted to alcohol during the later stages of brewing.

As soon as the enzymes are produced during malting, they start to convert starch to sugars inside the grain, and the sugars fuel the growth of rootlets. Thus some of the starch store is lost during malting, reducing the potential yield of alcohol and resulting in the production of unwanted rootlets.

Malting efficiency is therefore key to maximising yield of product in an industry that is of enormous economic importance to the UK and uses almost 2 million tonnes of UK-grown barley every year.

The researchers will test iminosugars - natural plant products that reduce starch loss and rootlet growth in germinating grains - in a "micromalting" system to find the most effective ones, then assess whether they can be commercialised. They will also investigate precisely how iminosugars prevent the loss of starch and the growth of rootlets. This information will help to identify genes in barley that are important in determining the efficiency of malting.

Manipulation of photosynthetic carbon metabolism in wheat to improve yield
Martin Parry, Rothamsted Research

This project investigates the possibility of improved yield and efficiency of wheat by increasing the performance of photosynthesis - the process by which plants use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make sugars. It will test the hypotheses that: 1) The existing variation in photosynthetic capacity can be exploited to increase photosynthesis and total biomass of modern wheat cultivars; and 2) Genetic manipulation of photosynthetic carbon metabolism can lead to enhanced photosynthetic performance in crop plants and result in higher yields, increased nitrogen use efficiency and increased resource-use efficiency.

The researchers will screen existing wheat germplasm from a range of sources using a combination of carbon isotope discrimination, gas analysis and biochemical assays to identify plants with improved photosynthetic characteristics for use in future breeding programmes. They will also produce transgenic wheat plants with altered levels of SBPase and Rubisco - two enzymes that are critical to the efficiency of photosynthesis.

They will then use physiological and molecular analysis to examine the resulting transgenic lines. This will enable the researchers to determine the impact of photosynthetic parameters on growth in greenhouse grown plants.

Exploiting sources of resistance to Turnip yellows virus for deployment in oilseed rape
John Walsh, University of Warwick

This project aims to use the natural resistance to Turnip yellows virus (TuYV, formerly known as Beet western yellows virus) that has been found in oilseed rape and wild relatives to improve commercial varieties using modern breeding techniques.

Estimates suggest that this virus can reduce yield of oilseed rape by up to 30% in the UK. In Australia 46% yield reduction has been recorded due to TuYV.

Crosses will be made between the resistant lines and susceptible lines and molecular techniques, including genome sequencing will be used to produce tools (markers) that will enable breeders to incorporate this natural virus resistance into commercial oilseed rape varieties.

The ultimate aim is to provide farmers with virus resistant oilseed rape varieties that will not become infected by the virus, or will tolerate some virus infection with minimal loss of yield. This will increase production, whilst at the same time reducing inputs and energy costs / consumption. It will also reduce the farmers' dependence on insecticides that are used to control the insects (the peach potato aphid) that spread the disease and so provide an environmentally friendly, sustainable means of increasing oilseed rape yields and thereby improving food security.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing 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.