Crop Science

The crop science theme includes consideration of all aspects of the production of food crops in the UK, with an emphasis on crop genetic improvement, and designing crops and production systems to enhance not only yield but also end use quality and health benefits. The theme is underpinned by molecular and physiological expertise in plant and crop science across the partner organisations.

Rothamsted, Lancaster and Reading have strong research programmes on the production and improvement of wheat, which is the major crop in the UK and Western Europe. These are complemented by programmes on oil seeds at Rothamsted, on fresh produce at Lancaster and Southampton, and on soft and perennial fruit at Reading. Rothamsted leads this theme, drawing on experience in the CIMMYT-led Wheat Yield Consortium (which includes Lancaster and Rothamsted), the Wheat Genetic Improvement Network, and the BBSRC Wheat Pre-Breeding projects.

Research priorities within the crop science theme includes:

Crop development and physiology in relation to environmental factors and abiotic stress.

  • Reading, Lancaster and Rothamsted have long standing programmes and facilities for analysis of the eco-physiology and photo-thermal adaptation of crop plants
  • Work at Southampton determining the sustainable use of water in salad crops in relation to environmental constraints.
  • Major targets are to: match the temporal availability of resources (water, nutrients, and light) to the requirements of crops and vice versa; and to improve resource capture and utilization efficiencies.

Crop pathology and pathogenomics.

  • Work at Rothamsted focuses on the identification of fungal genes whose function is necessary for wheat leaf infection with an emphasis on Fusarium and Septoria, and on modelling the epidemiology of pathogen infections in the UK.
  • Joint BBSRC-funded research between Rothamsted and Lancaster explores novel methods of control for crop diseases and pests.
  • Work at Reading centres on the environmental relations of plant pathogens and on the larger scale epidemiology of crop pathogens in the UK and overseas, including potential biocontrols, using both modelling and experiment.

Crop and climate modelling.

  • The Crops and Climate Group of the Walker Institute at Reading, and the Centre for Mathematical and Computational Biology at Rothamsted provide the foremost capability in crop modelling in the UK.
  • UoS specialises in multi-scale modelling of plants and soil in from a single soil grain to crop scale using a combination of x-ray CT scanning and multi-scale homogenisation theory.
  • Specific interests include: the impacts of climate change on crops, particularly wheat; modelling wheat-soil interactions; and modelling adaptations required for predicted environments, as well as modelling the impacts of climate-change mitigation strategies in cropping systems.

Plant biotechnology.

  • Rothamsted has pioneered the application of biotechnology to crop improvement in the UK, providing a national facility for the production of transgenic wheat and mutant populations of bread and durum wheat which are widely used by the research community.
  • Development of UK crops with enhanced health benefits, including developing new types of wheat with higher levels of total and soluble dietary fibre to reduce the glycaemic index of cereal products and increase prebiotic effects in the colon.
  • A major project at Rothamsted is to develop plant sources of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish oils), for human food supplements and to replace the requirement for fish meal in feed for aquaculture.
  • Areas of expertise at Rothamsted are complemented by expertise at Reading and Surrey on the impacts of diet on human health.
  • At Surrey novel research on molecular breeding in lettuce has identified targets for enhanced anti-oxidant potential using genomic approaches in mapping populations and breeding lines through collaboration with a commercial seed company.