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Crop science projects drive benefits for farming, food security and UK economy

18 November 2010

Crop science projects funded by BBSRC have fulfilled their potential to underpin progress in plant breeding and agriculture that are needed to ensure the security of our future food supply and the sustainability of farming.

Later today (18 November), researchers funded by the £13.3M BBSRC Crop Science Initiative will be joining guests from the plant breeding and agricultural industry to network and present the outcomes of projects funded under the initiative.

The BBSRC Crop Science Initiative was set up to fund new research in plant science, particularly plant genetics, in the UK with the aim of using the knowledge generated to develop new crop varieties that support sustainable agriculture and address problems including:

  • Mitigating the effects of climate change
  • Maintaining nutritional value of food during processing and storage
  • Developing new sources of biofuels so as to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel derived energy
  • Developing new and improved products such as biodegradable carrier bags, bread and beer

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said "Partnerships with industry open opportunities to realise the potential of excellent crop science research, such as the projects funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative. Such collaborations between academic researchers and industry will support the development of commercial crop varieties as well as new practices and policies for arable farming.

"This is an important opportunity for these researchers to share the knowledge, data and new technologies they have produced."

Indeed, several projects are already generating interest and some are being taken up by industrial partners and other collaborators with a view to improving commercial varieties. Highlights include:

Defeating Potato Blight
In what could hail a paradigm shift in breeding resistance to late blight - a devastating disease of potatoes and tomatoes costing the industry £5-6Bn a year worldwide - a team at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) and University of Dundee led by Professor Paul Birch from the University of Dundee has developed a new approach to breeding resistance to the mould-like organism (Phytopthora infestans) that causes this disease. The research, carried out at SCRI and the University of Aberdeen is now being taken forward into application via a collaboration with The Sainsbury Laboratory, which will look for naturally occurring blight resistance in potatoes and also further explore the genetics of Phytopthora infestans infection. It is also hoped that soon genetic resistance to blight will be brought together with nematode resistance to develop a variety that is resistant to both diseases.

Breeding durable virus-resistance into cabbages
A new partnership between researchers at the University of Warwick and plant breeders at Syngenta Seeds has been established on the basis of research carried out under the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative. The research, led by Dr John Walsh of the University of Warwick, uncovered the genetic basis of remarkable broad-spectrum resistance to a viral infection that affects leafy and arable brassica crops including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, swede and oilseed rape. The so-called Turnip mosaic virus causes significant reductions in yield and quality, often leaving an entire crop unfit for marketing; it is the most important pathogen of brassicas in some parts of the world. A patent is pending for the novel basis of the resistance and molecular markers are being used to speed up breeding resistant plant lines in collaboration with Syngenta. The resistance will increase the yields, quality and reliability of crops. Syngenta are now using this information to breed durable resistance to Turnip mosaic virus into Chinese Cabbage and hope to introduce this trait into other brassica crops in the future.

Dr Mike Storey, Head of Research and Development, AHDB - Potato Council said "Blight is a serious problem for the potato industry in the UK. We are working hard to raise grower awareness and ensure best practice to control the disease but we have the challenge of a continually changing pathogen population. What we need now is the application of this new research to improve variety resistance and identify new crop protection targets and integrate these approaches for sustainable control and to reduce the impact when blight does occur. This will be of great benefit to UK farmers and the economy."

Peter van der Toorn, R&D Lead Leafy Crops, Syngenta Seeds Vegetables said "Working in partnership with academic researchers is very important for us. Through such collaborations it's possible to take an idea from pre-commercial research and turn it into a new variety that can benefit the consumer and boost our contribution to the UK economy. We are very excited to be working together with academics at the University of Warwick to breed varieties with improved resistance to Turnip mosaic virus."

Professor Janet Allen, BBSRC Director of Research and chair of the Global Food Security programme development board said "We know that high quality bioscience research is required if we are to have a sustainable supply of safe, affordable, healthy food to feed a growing world population. But high quality science in isolation is not enough - the knowledge generated has to be taken forward into application. These researchers are doing exactly what it takes to ensure this happens - building networks, contacts and working relationships with those people in industry who can support translation of their research into real life applications."



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 for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (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.

About Global Food Security

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

Partner and sponsor organisations are:

  • Research Councils UK – comprising:
    • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
    • Economic and Social Research Council
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    • Medical Research Council
    • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for International Development
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Government Office for Science
  • Scottish Government
  • Technology Strategy Board

For more information about the food security challenge and Global Food Security visit: