Category

Agriculture

​​Sweet potato microbiome research important first step towards improving yield

By | Agriculture, News, Plant Health, Plant Science

Grown around the world, sweet potatoes are an important source of nutrition particularly in sub-Saharan African and Asian diets. Sweet potatoes are especially significant to sub-Saharan Africa as a source of Vitamin A, a nutrient commonly deficient in the region. While China currently produces the most sweet potatoes by country, sub-Saharan Africa has more land devoted to sweetpotatoes and continues to expand production. Farmers elsewhere are also increasingly growing sweetpotatoes.

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Reference genes are identified that are useful for genetic improvement in wheat

By | Agriculture, News, Plant Science, Spanish Society of Plant Physiology

Wheat feeds the world. According to the FAO, wheat is one of the world’s main crops, both in terms of extent and production, as well as being one of the main sources of carbohydrates and vegetable protein in the human diet. The quest for genetic improvement in wheat, leading to varieties that are more resistant to issues brought about by climate change or certain pests, responds to the need to keep feeding people.

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Scientists take a step closer to heat-tolerant wheat

By | Agriculture, Lancaster Environment Centre, News, Plant Science

Researchers working on molecular-level responses in crops have taken a step closer to their goal of producing heat-tolerant wheat

Smart thermostats tell air conditioners to switch on when the sun is bearing down in the summer and when to shut down to conserve energy. Similarly, plants have Rubisco activase, or Rca for short, that tells the plant’s energy-producing enzyme (Rubisco) to kick on when the sun is shining and signals it to stop when the leaf is deprived of light to conserve energy. 

A team from Lancaster University reports in The Plant Journal that swapping just one molecular building block out of 380 that make up an Rca in wheat enables it to activate Rubisco faster in hotter temperatures, suggesting an opportunity to help protect crops from rising temperatures.

“We took a wheat Rca (2β) that was already pretty good at activating Rubisco in lower temperatures and swapped out just one of its amino acids with one found in another wheat Rca (1β) that works pretty well in higher temperatures but is rubbish at activating Rubisco — and the result is a new form of 2β Rca that is the best of both worlds,” said Dr Elizabete Carmo-Silva, a senior lecturer at the Lancaster Environment Centre who oversaw this work for a research project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE). 

RIPE is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yields. RIPE is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development(DFID).

Here’s the breakdown: naturally occurring wheat Rca 1β has an isoleucine amino acid, works up to 39 degrees Celcius, but isn’t great at activating Rubisco, whereas the naturally occurring 2β has a methionine amino acid, works up to about 30 degrees Celcius, and is good at activating Rubisco. Here the team has created a new version of 2β with an isoleucine amino acid that works up to 35 degrees Celcius and is quite good at activating Rubisco.  

“Essentially, 1β is a rubbish enzyme and 2β is sensitive to higher temperatures,” Dr Carmo-Silva said. “The cool thing here is that we have shown how this one amino acid swap can make Rca active at higher temperatures without really affecting its efficiency to activate Rubisco, which could help crops kickstart photosynthesis under temperature stress to churn out higher yields.”

This work was carried out in vitro in E. coli, supported by a Ph.D. studentship by the Lancaster Environment Centre to first author Gustaf Degen. Importantly, these findings will support RIPE’s efforts to characterise and improve the Rca of other food crops such as cowpea and soybean, each with multiple different forms of Rca. 

“When looking at cowpea growing regions in Africa, it goes all the way from South Africa with an average around 22 degrees Celcius to Nigeria at about 30, and areas further north get to 38,” Dr Carmo-Silva said. “If we can help Rubisco activate more efficiently across these temperatures, that is really powerful and could help us close the gap between yield potential and the reality for farmers who depend on these crops for their sustenance and livelihoods.” 

The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making the project’s technologies available to the farmers who need them the most.

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops to ensure everyone has enough food to lead a healthy, productive life. This international research project is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development

RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with The Australian National UniversityChinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganisationLancaster UniversityLouisiana State UniversityUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of CambridgeUniversity of Essex, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Read the paper: The Plant Journal

Article source: Lancaster University

Image credit: RIPE project

“We urgently need a renewed public debate about new breeding technologies”

By | Agriculture, News

Plant breeding has considerably increased agricultural yields in recent decades and thus made a major contribution to combating global hunger and poverty. At the same time, however, the intensification of farming has had negative environmental effects. Increases in food production will continue to be crucial for the future because the world population and demand continue to grow. A recent study shows that new plant breeding technologies – such as genetic engineering and gene editing – can help to increase food production whilst being more environmentally friendly.

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Scientists are working to protect invaluable living collections during coronavirus lockdowns

By | Agriculture, News, Plant Health, Plant Science, Research

Staying on top of these collections is time-consuming during the best of times, and this task becomes even more complex in the age of social distancing. Yet thousands of scientists across the globe are doing just that, maintaining everything from crickets, to tissue cultures, mice, powdery mildews, nematodes, psyllids, zebrafish and even rust fungi.

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