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Black-grass Resistance Initiative gets battle underway

Copyright: Dr Helen Hicks

Work is now well underway as part of a £2.8M BBSRC-HGCA-funded project to tackle the threat to cereal crops posed by the weed black-grass.

A consortium of researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield and York with colleagues from Rothamsted Research and the Zoological Society of London started working on the four-year BBSRC-HGCA Black-grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI) project this summer.

Weed control in cereal crops has become one of the greatest challenges to agriculture, causing higher losses and costing more to tackle than crop pests or diseases.

Copyright: BGRI
A density plot showing the prevalence of black-grass in a field. Copyright: BGRI

In the UK black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) is the chief protagonist. Rampant evolution of resistance to herbicides has made it increasingly difficult to control over the last 30 years.

Dr Helen Hicks from The University of Sheffield, said: "Herbicide resistance is to farming what antibiotic resistance is to healthcare."

The BGRI are undertaking a multidisciplinary approach combining genomics, biochemistry, ecology, evolutionary biology and modelling with the aim of developing new ways to minimise the evolution of herbicide resistance within the next four years.

By understanding the molecular mechanisms of resistance, the team are already developing a pocket-based diagnostic kit to detect resistance in the field. Already the work of the consortium has shown the alarming scale of the problem that black-grass presents. During July and August scientists visited 11 counties and 70 farms around England to map 138 fields, discovering that 90% of 20m x 20m quadrants surveyed contained the weed. In addition the team has been able to collect black-grass seed from more than 190 populations, from making their own collections to having farmers post in samples

The next steps are for the team to gather management information for each of the fields that were surveyed, to try and tease apart links between tillage, herbicide application, crop rotation and the prevalence of black-grass and evolving herbicide resistance.

Dr Paul Neve, from Rothamsted Research, said: "Only by understanding how resistance evolves at the molecular level and how ecological and evolutionary forces act at the field level can we hope to fight the resistance epidemic and design and optimise rational weed management strategies that will be adopted by the farming community."

You can find out more about the initiative at bgri.info.

ENDS


Tags: crops farming food genetics Rothamsted Research news