Investment to increase wheat yields and support sustainable farming

Biologists at the University of Sheffield have won a major new investment in their research to support sustainable farming and help feed the world’s growing population.

The research, led by Grantham Supervisor Professor Julie Gray in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, focusses on developing varieties of wheat that are more resistant to drought.

The goal is to increase yields of wheat – already the world’s third largest cereal crop and a key food source – in areas where water is scarce and food crops struggle to thrive.

To support this work the University, in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, has been awarded part of a £4.7 million fund set up under a new scheme, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC).

Professor Gray’s research has already shown that the test plant Arabidopsis can be made more resistant to drought by reducing the number of stomata, the tiny pores in leaves that allow gases to exchange during photosynthesis.

The SARIC grant will fund studies to test whether the same applies to wheat. New varieties of wheat, which have fewer stomata, will have their resistance to drought tested using the University of Sheffield’s state-of-the-art controlled environment facilities, where plants can be grown in a variety of simulated environmental conditions.

Colleagues in Cambridge will examine whether the modified crops are more resistant to disease too.

SARIC is a new initiative by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and 12 industry partners. The University of Sheffield is one of six institutions to be funded through the scheme, announced this week.

Professor Gray said: “With a rapidly growing global population, it’s never been more important to find new ways of feeding more people. By developing food crops that are able to withstand drought conditions, we hope to increase wheat yields so that communities around the world can grow enough to eat.

“This investment represents a fantastic opportunity to help build a sustainable food system, as well as providing economic benefits for farms here in the UK.”

See also

BBSRC announce £4.7M for science to benefit British farming