Protecting the UK’s most valuable crops by making them more resilient is at the heart of a new five-year project, in which the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences will play a key role.
The Brassica, Rapeseed and Vegetable Optimisation (BRAVO) project, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), aims to combat losses of Oilseed rape and Brassica vegetable crops by unravelling the processes that control key aspects of plant development.
The knowledge gained from the programme will be applied to help develop new, more resilient varieties of Brassica crops that can achieve superior field performance whilst reducing yield loss and industry wastage.
Oilseed rape and Brassica vegetable crops have a combined UK market value in excess of £1 billion, but suffer yearly losses of up to £230 million, primarily due to increasingly unfavourable and unpredictable weather patterns.
The BRAVO project, led by Professor Lars Østergaard of the John Innes Centre (JIC), brings together the expertise of leading UK plant scientists from three research institutes - JIC, Rothamsted Research and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences - and four universities - Bath, Nottingham, Warwick, York - together with representatives from the oilseed and horticultural industries.
Environmental conditions influence a number of key stages of plant development including inflorescence growth, flowering, fertilisation and seed production. In the face of climate change it is more important than ever that our crops are capable of tolerating rapidly changing environmental conditions while still maintaining good vigour and achieving consistently high yields.
Discussions between BBSRC BRAVO consortium members and industrial stakeholders identified a number of strategic targets sensitive to such changing weather patterns. These include more concise flowering, consistently high fertility under fluctuating environments, reduced yield loss and more uniform seed performance.
As well as improving the fundamental understanding of how Brassica crops grow and respond to the environment, the £4.4 million BBSRC BRAVO project will support the training of young scientists and raise industry stakeholder awareness of new developments through workshops in Brassica genetics, genomics, phenotyping and modelling.
This project complements the long term programme of Brassica research funded at Warwick which includes the DEFRA-funded VeGIN (Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network) and OREGIN (Oilseed Rape Genetic Improvement Network) networks, BBSRC initiatives such as HAPI (Horticulture and Potato Initiative) and CIRC (Crop Improvement Research Club) andindustry-funded projects.
This is all underpinned by the unique Brassica germplasm collection maintained by the UK Vegetable Genebank funded by DEFRA.
Professor Lars Østergaard said:
“As our climate changes and the global human population is predicted to exceed 9 billion people by 2050, it is more important than ever that our crops are able to grow and produce as much food as possible in varying weather conditions and season lengths. By unravelling and exploring the processes behind important genetic traits in crops, we will provide a basis for the development of improved Brassica crops that reduce losses and withstand changes in climate and environmental conditions.”
BBSRC’s Strategic Longer and Larger (SLoLa) grants support integrated research projects requiring long timescales, extensive resources and multidisciplinary approaches. Supported projects must be scientifically excellent, demonstrate exceptional relevance to one or more of BBSRC’s strategic priorities, an understanding of the potential for impact and be conducted by an internationally leading research team.
BBSRC’s Head of Agriculture and Food Security, Dr Adam Staines added:
"This proposal addresses a number of key BBSRC research priorities. Making UK crops more resilient to our changing climate is key to maintaining future productivity and reducing food waste. This group is building on past investments in basic plant science and translating this knowledge to key UK crops, working with the relevant industry to deliver real potential long term benefits for UK farmers."
12 January 2016
Notes to editors:
The University of Warwick is consistently ranked in the top 10 universities in the UK and top 100 in the world.
It is one of the UK's leading universities, with an acknowledged reputation for excellence in research, teaching and innovation, alongside pioneering links with business and industry.
Warwick’s School of Life Sciences was ranked 2nd in the UK for Agriculture, Food and Veterinary research in the Government's 2014 “Research Excellence”.
The John Innes Centre is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology.
Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.
To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.
This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.
The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2015-2016 the John Innes Centre received a total of £30.1 million from the BBSRC.
The John Innes Centre is also supported by the John Innes Foundation through provision of research accommodation and long term support of the Rotation PhD programme.
The John Innes Centre is the winner of the BBSRC’s 2013 - 2016 Excellence With Impact award.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £473M in world-class bioscience in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
Further information, contact:
Luke Walton, International Press Officer
+44 (0) 7824 540 863
+44 (0) 2476 150 868
L dot Walton dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk