Major international push to maximise bioscience research to help world’s poorest farmers
20 November 2012
- Sequencing historical DNA to tackle wheat's worst enemy
- Unlocking ancient rice secrets to overcome rainfall extremes
- Leaving a bad taste in aphids' mouths
- Reducing crop losses with cereals that respond to pest attack
- Exploiting wild wheat to produce better Indian varieties
Over 40 international research organisations are joining forces in a unique £16M initiative that will harness bioscience to improve food security in developing countries.
Funding has been awarded to 11 new research projects, announced today, which will develop ways to improve the sustainability of vital food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The projects aim to develop staple crops better able to resist pests or thrive in harsh environmental conditions.
Smallholders in their maize field in Kenya with Professor Zeyaur Khan (left) from ICIPE. Image: Professor Z Khan
Food security is a major issue with over one billion people across the world already undernourished and the global population forecast to reach nine billion by 2050. These new research projects are expected to increase sustainable crop yields for farmers and their local communities within the next 5 to 10 years and the knowledge and skills developed as part of these projects will be beneficial for crop production globally.
The grants have been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) under the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) programme, a joint multi-national initiative of BBSRC and the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID), together with (through a grant awarded to BBSRC) the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of India's Ministry of Science and Technology.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "One billion people currently go to bed hungry every night. By 2050 there will be another two billion mouths to feed. And experts predict the world will need to be able to grow 70 per cent more food.
"The UK's world class bioscience sector is dedicating vital knowledge and expertise to tackling this global problem. This investment will bring together experts at 14 British Universities and Institutes who will work with famers in Africa and Asia to develop crops that are resistant to disease, pests and drought.
"Farmers need these innovations to protect their own livelihoods and the health of their communities."
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: "This global collaboration will build on the UK's world leading position in bioscience and will benefit millions of people through improving food security in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It will help us share knowledge and forge closer links with the international research community, whilst improving skills and creating jobs in the UK."
Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, said: "Staple crops are essential to millions of farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, both for food and income. All too often, environmental conditions and pests cause serious crop failure, with devastating consequences for individual farmers, their families and their communities.
"Producing crops better able to grow in harsh conditions will not only tackle malnutrition, but also increase the chances for families to earn an income in order to afford education and health care, which is why DFID is providing funding to this potentially life-saving initiative."
Researchers in Nairobi at the BecA-ILRI Hub address key constraints to African agriculture. Image: David White/BecA-ILRI
Sam Dryden, Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,commented: "Many small farmers in the developing world cannot grow enough food to eat, let alone sell. Innovation in agriculture is vital to resolve this and we hope these projects will sustainably improve agricultural productivity, build skills and resources in developing countries, and ultimately help farming families build better lives."
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "Providing safe, affordable and nutritious food for everyone is one of the greatest challenges we face. This ground-breaking international partnership, of funders and scientists, will ensure that cutting- edge, fundamental bioscience is combined with vital local knowledge to develop sustainable, affordable solutions to increase crop yields and improve global food security."
The new initiative is being coordinated by BBSRC. The £16M is made up of £3M from BBSRC, £5M from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC) and £7M from DFID. A further £1M has been provided by the DBT of India's Ministry of Science and Technology for projects involving India.
Each project includes at least one partner from the UK and one from a developing nation. This approach, used by BBSRC and DFID in previous programmes, aims to build scientific capacity in developing countries, with the aim of developing research teams and projects that tackle other local scientific challenges.
Sequencing historical DNA to tackle wheat's worst enemy
Using new DNA sequencing technologies and a variety of strains of the wheat disease 'yellow rust' from Africa, India and the UK, an international team of researchers will sequence current and historical collections of the disease to understand how it has evolved and to look at wheat genes best able to resist the pathogen in the future.
Unlocking ancient rice secrets to overcome rainfall extremes
Researchers from the UK, USA and India will work together to access valuable genetic information about variation in ancestral wild species of rice to try and identify beneficial segments of the genome that help plants survive drought.
Leaving a bad taste in aphids' mouths
Aphid-transmitted viruses pose a serious risk to beans and other major crops, resulting in large losses. An international team will survey bean growing areas in three distinct ecological zones within Uganda to look at how virus infection shapes the distribution of aphids under natural conditions.
Reducing crop losses with cereals that respond to pest attack
Using state of the art semiochemical identification and genetic analysis technology the researchers will work with local farmers to look at different crop varieties and define genetic markers associated with the semiochemical trait to enable breeding programmes to move the trait into better crop varieties.
Exploiting wild wheat to produce better Indian varieties
Over the next five years, an international team of scientists will examine genetic variation in wild wheat species to identify traits which could be used in cultivated varieties, providing tolerance to abiotic stresses such as heat and drought tolerance as well as biotic stresses such as resistance to pests and diseases.
To download summaries of all projects being funded by the initiatives, see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/files/publications/1210-scprid.pdf (PDF 1.28MB)
To download images, see below:
- Image 1 - Caption: Smallholders in their maize field in Kenya with Professor Zeyaur Khan (left) from ICIPE
Credit: Professor Z Khan
- Image 2 - Caption: Researchers in Nairobi at the BecA-ILRI Hub address key constraints to African agriculture
Credit: David White/BecA-ILRI
These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.
Notes to editors
UK Universities and Institutes partners are:
- Cranfield University
- Imperial College London
- John Innes Centre
- National Institute of Agricultural Botany
- Rothamsted Research
- The Sainsbury Laboratory
- University of Cambridge
- University of East Anglia
- The University of Edinburgh
- University of Exeter
- The University of Nottingham
- The University of Sheffield
- University of Southampton
- The University of York
About Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people-especially those with the fewest resources-have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
TheDepartment for International Development (DFID) is the government department responsible for promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty. The central focus of DFID is a commitment to the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. For more information, visit our website at www.dfid.gov.uk.
About Indian Department of Biotechnology
The setting up of a separate Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under the Ministry of Science and Technology in 1986 gave a new impetus to the development of the field of modern biology and biotechnology in India. In more than a decade of its existence, the department has promoted and accelerated the pace of development of biotechnology in the country. Through several R&D projects, demonstrations and creation of infrastructural facilities a clear visible impact of this field has been seen. The department has made significant achievements in the growth and application of biotechnology in the broad areas of agriculture, health care, animal sciences, environment, and industry. http://dbtindia.nic.in/index.asp
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.