Skip to main content

Warwick Researchers in £6 million programme to help crops cope with climate change

The UK’s main public funder of life science research, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has today announced that it is to award the University of Warwick over £6 million to undertake research to help crops cope with climate change. The funding is part of a £26 Million Systems Biology initiative by BBSRC.

BBSRC has awarded over £5 million to a research team which will be led by Professor Jim Beynon from the University of Warwick’s plant research department, Warwick HRI, and Professor David Rand of Warwick’s Systems Biology Centre, to undertake research on how plants balance multiple stresses. They will then be able to understand how plants use their signalling pathways with important implications for breeding hardier crop varieties to help those crops face a range of climate changes.

The Warwick led project (entitled "Elucidating Signalling Networks in Plant Stress Responses") brings together plant scientists and Systems Biology experts at the University of Warwick with colleagues from the Universities of Essex and Exeter. In particular the Warwick led team will look at the signalling pathways used by plants in response to external stresses are often shared between different stimuli – e.g. the pathway for cold could be shared with the one for a particular disease. They will consider how plants switch between pathways and balance them when under multiple stresses. This project will research and model plant responses to three different infections, drought and excessive light.

Systems biologists at Warwick will receive a further £900,000 for its part in another BBSRC funded research project entitled "Regulation of Biological Signalling by Temperature (ROBuST)"

This brings together the universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool, Warwick, York in a team planning to analyse and model the way that signalling pathways for light, circadian rhythms and cold, respond to temperature changes in the plant Arabidposis. The project will model how temperature changes that affect some signalling pathways affect the whole plant. The research will help plant breeders to develop crops able to cope with damaging environmental conditions - again including climate change.

In addition to the climate change related research BBSRC has also announced a grant of £1 million to the University of Warwick’s Systems Biologists to work on signalling is involved in governing the response within cells to stimulus such as stress, the immune system and UV radiation. It is important in determining how a cell decides when to die. When the system goes wrong it has been implicated in cancer, inflammatory problems, autoimmune diseases and septic shock. The goal of the project will be to develop a model of the system to help to complete our understanding of it. The project is entitled "Dynamics and function of the NF-kappaB signalling system".

Systems biology is a revolution in the way scientists think and work. It brings together researchers across different disciplines, combining theory, computer modelling and experiments. Over the last three years the UK Research Councils have invested around £100M in making the UK a world leader in this area. Systems biology will make the outputs of bioscience research more useful and easier to apply in the real world, as well as advancing our understanding of biological processes.

This new investment in systems biology represents a further major step by BBSRC and EPSRC to build the UK’s world leading expertise in this area. Steve Visscher, BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, said: "Systems biology is a new way of looking at questions in the biosciences. Instead of measuring and describing plants, animals, cells and molecules bioscientists can harness the power of modelling and computers to inform their experiments and predict how something will work. This exciting proposition will mean faster and safer drug development, new ways of coping with climate change and science that can inform policymakers. The UK is a world leader in systems biology and the new funding announced today helps to keep our bioscience community at the forefront."

Note for Editors

The overall new investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in systems Biology in the UK totals 26 million and includes £2.8M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

For further details please contact:

Sharon Hall, Warwick HRI
University of Warwick 024 76 575254

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523708 or 07767 655860

BBSRC Media Office
Matt Goode, Tel: 01793 413299, email: Michelle Kilfoyle, Tel: 01793 414694, email:

PR103 PJD 26th November 2007