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BBSRC at Cereals 2011: New Projects to Develop Improved Crops for Food Security

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On the first day of Cereals 2011, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has announced 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.