Less chewing the cud, more greening the fuel

Making grasses more digestible promises improved feed for ruminants and better biomass for biofuel production, with economic and environmental benefits for both.

Plant biomass contains considerable calorific value but most of it makes up robust cell walls, an unappetising evolutionary advantage that helped grasses to survive foragers and prosper for more than 60 million years.

The trouble is that this robustness still makes them less digestible in the rumen of cows and sheep and difficult to process in bioenergy refineries for ethanol fuel.

Back to the future

Modern farming owes much to long-standing research that continues to pump out results and to provide valuable perspectives to guide the future of agricultural science, achievements that will be celebrated at a three-day international conference in May.

The Future of Long-Term Experiments in Agricultural Science, from 21–23 May, is being organised by the Association of Applied Biologists at Rothamsted Conference Centre to mark the 175th anniversary of the start of scientific investigations at Rothamsted.

Hidden threat to health

The Gates Foundation programme brings together teams in Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya and the UK © Rothamsted Research

One of the most ambitious programmes to provide lasting improvements in nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa begins today when a diverse multinational team of experts from agriculture to ethics start looking for ways to end dietary deficiencies in essential micronutrients.

Rothamsted Research is contributing soil and crop expertise to the programme, known as GeoNutrition, which has received a grant of £4.4 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to cover 43 months’ work in Ethiopia and Malawi, principally.

Study predicts a significantly drier world at 2ºC

Over a quarter of the world’s land could become significantly drier if global warming reaches 2ºC, according to new research from an international team including the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The change would cause an increased threat of drought and wildfires.

But limiting global warming to under 1.5ºC would dramatically reduce the fraction of the Earth’s surface that undergoes such changes.

Speed breeding technique sows seeds of new green revolution

Pioneering new technology is set to accelerate the global quest for crop improvement in a development which echoes the Green Revolution of the post war period.

The speed-breeding platform developed by teams at the John Innes Centre, University of Queensland and University of Sydney, uses a glasshouse or an artificial environment with enhanced lighting to create intense day-long regimes to speed up the search for better performing crops.