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Improving germination in seeds

Crop yield and resource use efficiency depends on successful plant establishment and this requires seeds that germinate rapidly, uniformly and robustly across diverse environmental conditions.Reliable seed performance (vigour) is therefore a key agricultural trait. In practice, seed vigour varies and this creates a substantial global problem for seed producers and farmers. Since 1980, researchers in Life Sciences have provided knowledge, patented techniques and genetic backgrounds from their research programmes to enhance the performance of seeds in crop production. Seed production businesses worldwide use and continue to adopt these techniques.

 
Background

In global and European agriculture, the seed market is thought to exceed US$40 billion and £5billion, respectively, identifying this as a major industry. Research undertaken by Professor Bill Finch Savage and Dr Hugh Rowse at the School of Life Sciences (1980-2013) found that rapid germination, rather than stress tolerance per se, is a significant factor in minimising poor establishment, a trait that could be manipulated prior to sowing both through genetic improvement and physiological advancement treatments.

By understanding how seeds responded to moisture in the soil, research by Dr Rowse, led to the invention of 'Drum Priming' a physiological method of computer-controlled application of water to the seed in a rotating drum, sufficient to initiate and progress germination but insufficient to allow completion. This allows for faster, more uniform and predictable seedling establishment, a now patented technology, which has been adopted in various forms by seed companies worldwide.

Overlapping research by Professor Finch-Savage has demonstrated a genetic basis to the speed of germination, identifying beneficial alleles (patent applied for) which when present consistently improve the performance of seeds.

Impact

Seed production businesses worldwide have adopted and use these and other techniques developed by Prof Finch-Savage and colleagues. The research has had, and continues to have, a direct impact on food security, sustainable crop production and the profitability of farming and seed production businesses.

Future

It is anticipated that seed production businesses will continue to adopt these advances for the improvement of crop establishment.

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REF2014 case study

'The input we have had from the Finch-Savage group has led to the injection of new technologies into our organisation so that we can offer better solutions for UK farmers and growers'
Elsoms Seeds Ltd, UK