Scientists Engineer Disease-Resistant Rice Without Sacrificing Yield

Researchers have successfully developed a novel method that allows for increased disease resistance in rice without decreasing yield. A team at Duke University, USA, working in collaboration with scientists at Huazhong Agricultural University in China, describe the findings in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Good NEWS for the fight against malnutrition in Africa

Since at least the 1970s, food crises have seemed to strike sub-Saharan Africa with depressing frequency.

Nitrogen-efficient crops on the horizon: Can we grow more with fewer emissions?

Through a natural, affordable alternative to farmers’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers, science now offers an option to boost crop productivity and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the authors of a report in the journal Plant Science.

Promoting agricultural innovation

The 2017 Agropolis Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food is awarded to Dr. Bina Agarwal (University of Manchester, UK) in the “Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development” category; Dr. Paul Gepts (University of California, Davis, USA) in the “Distinguished Scientist” category and Dr. Elena Poverenov (The Volcani Center, Israel) in the “Young Promising Scientist” category. The winners will receive their certificate and prize of €20,000 each.

Breakthrough pigeonpea genome re-sequencing will lead to superior varieties and make the pulse more affordable

In a significant breakthrough, a global team of 19 scientists from 9 institutes have re-sequenced the genome or DNA of 292 pigeonpea varieties (Cajanus cajan – commonly called arhar or tur dal in India) and discovered new traits such as resistance to various diseases that affect the crop and its insensitivity to photo-period (the duration of daylight hours required for reaching maturity). The research also traces the likely origin of the domesticated pigeonpea to Madhya Pradesh in central India. These discoveries have been published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

First step taken toward epigenetically modified cotton

With prices down and weather patterns unpredictable, these are tough times for America's cotton farmers, but new research led by Z. Jeffrey Chen at The University of Texas at Austin might offer a break for the industry. He and a team have taken the first step toward a new way of breeding heartier, more productive cotton through a process called epigenetic modification.

Amazon rainforest may be more resilient to deforestation than previously thought

The Amazon forest stores about half of the global tropical forest carbon and accounts for about a quarter of carbon absorption from the atmosphere by global forests each year. As a result, large losses of Amazonian forest cover could make global climate change worse.

Biologists find missing link for the 'safe' signal in plants

The hormone jasmonic acid plays a major role in the plant immune system and in regulating growth. Scientists have already learned much about how jasmonic acid works, but one important link was missing: what makes the plant's jasmonic acid level go down once the attack by a fungus or insect has been warded off? Plant biologists at Utrecht University and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, have now discovered how the plant metabolises jasmonic acid, issuing the signal 'safe'. Controlling this mechanism may present new opportunities to increase resistance of crops to fungi and insects. The results of their research were published in the scientific journal PNAS.

Study finds large chromosomal swaps key to banana domestication

Bananas are one of the most important staple crops of the tropics, transported with great care over great distances to satisfy the world's appetite. And today, with more than half the world's bananas coming from a single, Cavendish variety, they may increasingly become susceptible to funguses that threaten its livelihood, such as the devastating Panama disease.

Climate change can alter the impact of forest pathogens in trees

New research on projected climate changes from the University of Helsinki indicates that climate change has an alarming potential to increase the damage caused to Norway spruce trees by a naturally circulating disease spreading fungus.

From Journal of Experimental Botany: Marvellous little pulses

The latest special issue from Journal of Experimental Botany, which focuses scientific attention on pulse crops, is a critically important touchstone for researchers in this first year of FAO Agenda implementation, and came about through the United Nations’ 2016 Year of Pulses. A key part of many food cultures, pulses really are ‘little marvels’.

Hotspots show that vegetation alters climate by up to 30 percent

A new Columbia Engineering study, led by Pierre Gentine, associate professor of earth and environmental engineering, analyzes global satellite observations and shows that vegetation alters climate and weather patterns by as much as 30%. Using a new approach, the researchers found that feedbacks between the atmosphere and vegetation (terrestrial biosphere) can be quite strong, explaining up to 30% of variability in precipitation and surface radiation. The paper, published today in Nature Geoscience, is the first to look at biosphere-atmosphere interactions using purely observational data and could greatly improve weather and climate predictions critical to crop management, food security, water supplies, droughts, and heat waves.

Increasing grain size, weight may improve wheat yields

Larger, heavier wheat kernels—that’s how Associate Professor Wanlong Li of the South Dakota State University (SDSU, USA) Department of Biology and Microbiology seeks to increase wheat production. Through a three-year, $930,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Li is collaborating with Bing Yang, an associate professor in genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University, to increase wheat grain size and weight using a precise gene-editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9.

Changing climate could have devastating impact on forest carbon storage

New research from a multi-university team of biologists shows what could be a startling drop in the amount of carbon stored in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to projected climate change and wildfire events.

Funding Opportunities: May 2017

Here are some funding opportunities we have come across this month. If you know of any others we may have missed, please do let us know!

Researchers find crucial clue to manipulating reproduction in plants

A team of researchers, led by a plant cell biologist at the University of California, Riverside, has for the first time identified a small RNA species and its target gene that together regulate female germline formation in plants.

Why communication is vital -- even among plants and fungi

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a plant protein indispensable for communication early in the formation of symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and fungi. Symbiosis significantly enhances a plant's ability to take up vital nutrients like phosphate from the soil, and understanding the processes involved holds great promise for the development of sustainable 'biosolutions' to enhancing food production in order to feed a growing global population.

Increased leaf abundance is a double-edged sword

A new global assessment reveals that increases in leaf abundance are causing boreal areas to warm and arid regions to cool. The results suggest that recent changes in global vegetation have had impacts on local climates that should be considered in the design of local mitigation and adaptation plans. A substantial portion of the planet is greening in response to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, nitrogen deposition, global warming and land use change. The increase in leafy green coverage, or leaf area index (LAI), will hold important implications for climate change feedback loops, yet quantifying these impacts on a global scale can be challenging.

New approach predicts threats to rainforests

With rain forests at risk the world over, a new collaboration is equipping conservationists with the tools to predict and plan for future forest loss.

Helping plants pump iron

Just like people, plants need iron to grow and stay healthy. But some plants are better at getting this essential nutrient from the soil than others. Now, a study led by a researcher at the Salk Institute has found that variants of a single gene can largely determine a plant's ability to thrive in environments where iron is scarce.

Camelina: Where you grow what you grow

Camelina: Have you heard of it? It's an emerging alternative oilseed crop in parts of the Great Plains.

‘Agricultural revolution’ in Anglo-Saxon England sheds new light on medieval land use

Researchers from the University of Leicester (UK) will be shedding new light on how an ‘agricultural revolution’ in Anglo-Saxon England fuelled the growth of towns and markets as part of a new project investigating medieval farming habits. The project, titled ‘Feeding Anglo-Saxon England (FeedSax): The Bioarchaeology of an Agricultural Revolution’, which is funded by the European Research Council, is led by the University of Oxford working with colleagues from the University of Leicester.

Newly-published spinach genome will make more than Popeye stronger

While you may not gulp spinach by the can-fuls, if you love spanakopita or your go-to appetizer is spinach artichoke dip, then you'll be excited to know that new research out of Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) will make it even easier to improve this nutritious and delicious, leafy green.

Sunflower genome sequence to provide roadmap for more resilient crops

University of Georgia researchers are part of an international team that has published the first sunflower genome sequence. This new resource will assist future research programs using genetic tools to improve crop resilience and oil production.

Micro delivery service for fertilizers

Plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves as well as their roots. However, foliar fertilization over an extended period is difficult. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, German researchers have now introduced an efficient delivery system for micronutrients based on biohybrid microgels. Special peptides anchor the "microcontainers" onto the leaf surface while binding sites inside ensure gradual release of the "cargo".

Scientists identify two new proteins connected to plant development

The discovery of two new proteins could lead to better ways to regulate plant structure and the ability to resist crop stresses such as drought, thus improving agriculture productivity, according to researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Discovery of an alga's 'dictionary of genes' could lead to advances in biofuels and medicine

Plant biologists and biochemists from UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco have produced a gold mine of data by sequencing the genome of a green alga called Chromochloris zofingiensis.

Antarctic has seen widespread change in last 50 years, moss study reveals

In 2013, researchers studying mosses and microbes growing at the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula documented unprecedented ecological change over the last 50 years, driven by warming temperatures. Now, the same research group has confirmed that those striking changes in the Antarctic are widespread, occurring all across the Peninsula. The findings appear in Current Biology.

Untangling the genetic legacy of tomato domestication

Tomatoes have come a long way from their origins as pea-sized berries due to humans breeding tomato plants to produce bigger fruit. However, favorable mutations that went along with increased fruit size and other beneficial traits do not always play well together. A study published in Cell found that natural mutations in two important tomato genes that were selected for different purposes in breeding can cause extreme branching and reduce fruit yield when they occur in the same plant. However, the researchers have found a way to use those genes to create an improved tomato plant that grows a larger number of tomatoes.

Some forests have been hiding in plain sight

A new estimate of dryland forests suggests that the global forest cover is at least 9% higher than previously thought. The finding will help reduce uncertainties surrounding terrestrial carbon sink estimates.