Scientists remove reliance on seasonality in new lines of broccoli

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich are developing a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in eight to 10 weeks. It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions, which could help with continuity of supply when growers are no longer reliant on seasonal weather conditions.

This innovation in crop production builds on the wealth of fundamental research carried out by Professor Dame Caroline Dean and her lab on vernalisation — the need for some plants to experience a period of cold weather before they can flower. The timing of the switch to flowering is critical for a plant’s adaptation to the environment and its resulting yield.

A press release from the centre (HERE) says a team led by working collaboratively with Professor Dean, have focused on translating this knowledge to Brassica crop species.

Many crops rely on this period of cold before they can flower and so are very susceptible to fluctuating winter temperatures.

Recent adverse weather in Murcia, Spain, led to a shortage of courgettes, iceberg lettuce and broccoli. The team at the John Innes Centre has been working on way to increase crop productivity and reduce vulnerability to fluctuations in climate.

Dr Irwin said, “We harnessed our knowledge of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster. This means growers could turn around two field-based crops in one season, or if the broccoli is grown in protected conditions, 4-5 crops in a year.”

This line has been developed with strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The John Innes Centre aims to provide pre-breeding material to plant breeders and growers for year-round scheduling of Brassica vegetables.

The new broccoli line developed at the centre is one of a number that have been selected as a step toward climate-proofing our crops.Dr Irwin said the development has the potential to remove growers’ exposure to seasonal weather fluctuations from crop production. This could mean broccoli — and in future other vegetables where the flower is eaten, such as cauliflowers — can be grown anywhere at any time enabling continuous production and supply of fresh local produce.

Judith and her team were surprised to see how rapidly plants grew from seed to harvestable sprouting broccoli spears. Detailed analysis identified the gene responsible for this trait. They are now testing further generations under conventional glasshouse and controlled environment conditions. This line has been developed using conventional breeding techniques.

The next steps from experimental line to commercialisation involve flavour and nutritional analysis and performance testing under true protected and field commercial growing conditions.

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