BRAVO: making UK crops more resilient

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), and industry-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.”

Article source: University of Warwick

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