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BBSRC Partners Seed Cereal Genomics Studies

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has awarded the first tranche of its £7 million ($11.3 million) Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC) grants, including funding for genomics-based studies.

The £3.5 million round of CIRC funding will support research into cereals that are commonly used for human and livestock consumption.

The six projects include three focused on using genomics and genetics to pursue CIRC's core goals of improving crop productivity and quality.

"The research funded by the club is of relevance to the development of commercial varieties of oilseed rape, barley and wheat, and as such will ensure the high quality research has an impact on the sustainability of food production in the near future," BBSRC CEO Douglas Kell said in a statement.

A grant to Keith Edwards, a cereal functional genomics professor at the University of Bristol, will support research to develop and validate a flexible wheat genotyping platform. The effort will use the wealth of wheat genome sequencing data to identify SNPs that can be used in marker-assisted selection efforts. The study will involve partnerships with the John Innes Center (JIC) and with the genotyping company KBioscience.

Another grant will fund research led by Lars Ostergard, a project leader in crop genetics at the JIC, to study gene function in oilseed rape in order to develop ways to combat pod shatter, another name for premature opening of the fruit. Pod shatter causes 10 percent annual losses of oilseed annually, and can cause losses of up to 70 percent in certain conditions. The study will use data from research into the model plant Arabidopsis to examine the genetic regulators of fruit opening in oilseed, as both plants have similar fruits. The effort will focus on manipulating the activity of a particular gene by isolating mutant plants and assessing their performance in pod shatter-resistance tests.

Another award will go to John Walsh, a research leader of Plant-Virus Interactions at the University of Warwick, for efforts to use genetic markers for disease resistance in oilseed rape. The goal is to use the natural resistance to Turnip yellows virus that occurs in oilseed rape and its wild relatives to improve its commercial varieties. The disease can lower the crop's yield by up to 30 percent in the UK and up to 46 percent in Australia. The genetic marker discoveries will be used to cross the resistant and susceptible lines of the plant to boost its ability to fend off infection of the virus, or to tolerate the virus with minimal loss of yield and to lessen the need for pesticide.

CIRC's partners include the BBSRC, the government of Scotland, Syngenta, Monsanto UK, BASF Plant Science Company, the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute, and other partners. The second round of funding from CIRC is now available and the application deadline is June 29.