Durham University secures slice of £13M to harness science for better crops
(11 January 2007)
The UK’s primary public funder of bioscience research has announced over £13M of research projects, including a £785,000 collaborative project led by Durham University, to turn ideas from excellent basic plant science into practical applications to benefit the UK’s farmers and consumers.
With the challenges to agriculture posed by climate change and an increasing need to grow and farm in sustainable ways, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded funding to 18 projects that will aim to address real-world issues. The three-way collaborative project between Durham University, Newcastle University and Central Science Laboratory, York, will be led by Dr John Gatehouse, a reader in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham, and will look at enhancing the resistance of wheat to insect pests. All the research projects awarded money by the BBSRC will exploit the world-class basic plant science and plant genetics in the UK to improve the sustainability of agriculture and look at problems including: • How to grow crops able to cope with climate change • How to breed vegetables that remain nutritious after days in the fridge • How to grow more effective biofuels to help reduce the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels. • How to exploit plants more effectively to produce better bread, beer, biodegradable carrier bags and for other applications. These and other projects funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative are described in a full media briefing available at: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/media/pressreleases/07_01_09_croplaunch.html The collaborative research programme led by Durham University will investigate how wheat plants defend themselves from attacks by two of the major insect pests of wheat in the UK, wheat bulb flies and cereal aphids, and how the insects can counter the plant’s defences. It will also examine how environmentally-friendly insecticides can be developed to protect the valuable wheat crops. Dr John Gatehouse said: “The funding from the BBSRC will enable us to develop practical solutions for the British agricultural industry to use against the increasing threat insects pose for wheat crops. Spraying with pesticides is inefficient, costly, and environmentally undesirable, and damage by bulb fly larvae is often done before the farmer has realised the problem. “In addition, as the climate warms up, the range and severity of attacks by these insect pests is extending. Finding a practical solution is becoming increasingly important.” Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “The UK is home to some of the best plant science in the world. We want to harness this and exploit it to address some of the pressing issues that we face. BBSRC’s aim is to support basic crop research that will produce outcomes to make farming more sustainable and able to meet the challenges of a changing environment.” The BBSRC Crop Science Initiative follows an earlier review of the Council’s support for crop science which found that UK crop research needed to better translate basic plant science into new crop varieties to help growers, industry and consumers. The projects announced today are intended to help do this.