Marsden Fund provides new money for plant science

Plant & Food Research has received funding from the Marsden Fund for two projects which will study how plants grow and adapt, fundamental science that will ultimately inform future crop breeding and growing practices.

One of the projects will investigate how ancient plant ancestors may have adapted to an environment with high UV radiation, providing better understanding of how plants may respond to future climate change.

“The emergence of plants onto land was one of Earth’s major evolutionary events, but at that time the environment had a number of challenges, including high levels of damaging UV radiation,” says Dr Kevin Davies.

“Our research will look at liverworts, the closest living relative of the first land plants, and study how these plants adapt the production of pigment molecules to counteract the effects of UV. This will, in turn, provide some understanding of how plants may adapt and respond to shifts in environmental conditions as a result of predicted global climate change.”

A number of plant characteristics, such as the growth of branches that produce seed and fruit, are controlled by strigolactone hormones, and the second Marsden project will study the strigolactone signalling pathway and how it could be used to inform future growing practices.

“Strigolactones are a recent discovery and not much is understood about how these hormones work at a molecular level,” says Dr Kim Snowden.

“By increasing our understanding of how these molecules influence plant development, we can develop new methods to block or enhance their effects. This could allow us to breed new cultivars with different branching architecture that lead to increased efficiency in growing practices, or to develop new control methods for weeds.”

The Marsden Fund is a contestable fund established by the New Zealand Government and administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council. In 2013, $59 million was awarded for 109 projects.

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