Mixture of crops provides ecological benefits for agricultural landscapes

Too few flowering plants in agricultural landscapes often is among the reasons for the decline of pollinating insects.

Researchers at the University of Göttingen have now investigated how a mixture of crops of faba beans (broad beans) and wheat affects the number of pollinating insects. They found that areas of mixed crops compared with areas of single crops are visited equally often by foraging bees. Their results were published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

The researchers observed and counted foraging honeybees and wild bees in mixtures of wheat and faba bean and in pure cultures that only contained faba beans. Continue reading

Quinoa and climate change – ancient grain may be a key crop for climate emergency

Food scientist Fan Zhu’s study of quinoa indicates the crop will be important as humanity faces the climate emergency.  The super food’s tolerance for extreme conditions could make it a key crop, he writes in an article first published by Newsroom (HERE).  His article has been reposted (HERE) by the University of Auckland, which says the article reflects the opinion of the author and are not necessarily the university’s views. 

Quinoa is an ancient seed, originally grown only in the high altitudes of South America’s Andes, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Its popularity and price have surged over the past three decades because of health-conscious consumers attracted by its reputation as a “super food”.

After 10 years of research into quinoa and recently publishing the book about it, Quinoa, Chemistry and Technology, I believe quinoa is likely to play a major role in improving food security for a large proportion of the global population, and its tolerance for extreme conditions could make it a key crop for helping humans survive climate change.

Climate change has already contributed to crop failures around the world, especially in parts of Africa, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan, as well as in parts of Asia, including India and Pakistan. Continue reading

Aussie wheat is the best? Think again says research group

Plant & Food Research scientists say the notion that Australia has New Zealand beat in growing quality wheat is a myth.

It’s a belief which explains why so many of this country’s commercial bakers use Aussie flour rather than the home-grown product.  But “it turns out the opposite is true”, says Antonia Miller, a business manager at the Crown Research Institute.

New Zealand has been breeding wheat since the 1920s and, Antonia Miller says, the Plant & Food Research breeding programme which has run since the 1990s makes New Zealand’s milling wheat every bit as good, if not better, than the grain grown in Australia. Continue reading

Ozone pollution responsible for billions in crop losses

International researchers have estimated almost NZ$92 billion worth of annual losses from crop production have been caused by pollution from ozone – a greenhouse gas – across East Asia.

The researchers set up 3,000 monitoring sites across the region to try to accurately quantify the damage resulting from the exposure of wheat, rice and corn crops to ozone.

The study, published in Nature Food, includes relative yield losses of those three major staple crops in Japan, China, and South Korea.

The surface concentration of the greenhouse gas in Asia is increasing and is expected to continue to do so as the demand for food rises.

Exposure to ozone pollution hinders crop growth and agricultural production, posing a risk to food security. Previous attempts to quantify these effects, however, have likely been biased by a lack of observational or experimental data.

Zhaozhong Feng and colleagues developed ozone exposure–response relationships for the three major crops, wheat, rice and maize, using experimental data from key production regions in Asia.

The authors supplemented this information with measurements of ozone in the air from over 3,000 monitoring sites in China, Japan and South Korea.

The highest relative yield losses were found in China — 33%, 23% and 9% for wheat, rice and maize, respectively.

Overall, total annual losses in crop production as a result of ozone pollution were estimated to be US$63 billion.

The authors conclude that the impact of ozone pollution on crop production underscores the need for stricter ozone emission controls and adaptive measures at the regional level.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s43016-021-00422-6

Source  Scimex

Climate change will increase crop disease risk

Crops like wheat and soybeans could become more productive in a changing climate, with warming temperatures unlocking more land to grow and harvest them from.

However researchers have found those gains could also be thwarted by climate change, with temperature-sensitive plant pathogens moving into new environments too.

In a linked Nature News & Views piece, a plant disease expert says this is troubling news for the regions most at risk because it could lead to more epidemics like the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, climate change could lead to greater crop yields at high latitudes, but the gains may be offset by an increased risk of crop infection by pathogens

Food security is a continuous concern as the global population expands, arable land is reduced and the threat of climate change increases.

Climate change-induced losses to global crop production can occur either directly, for example as a result of drought, or indirectly, including via the impact of plant pathogens.

Plant pathogens represent a major threat to crop production, but little is known about how climate change will impact their distribution and abundance.

Daniel Bebber and colleagues model the production of four major commodity crops (maize, wheat, soybean and rice), as well as eight additional temperate and tropical crops, under future climate scenarios over the 21st century.

The authors predict that, overall, the yield of most of these crops will increase at high latitudes, such as in North America and parts of Eurasia.

They also suggest, however, that temperature-dependent infection risk from 80 fungal and oomycete (fungi-like) plant pathogens will increase at high latitudes. Major shifts in species composition within pathogen communities may additionally occur in some regions, such as the United States, Europe and China.

The authors conclude that potential increases in pathogen burden highlight a potential major risk to food security, reinforcing the need for careful crop management.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41558-021-01104-8

Source:  Scimex

Newly identified gene helps combat devastating disease of wheat plants

A team of scientists from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and the US-based non-profit 2Blades Foundation has identified a promising resistance gene that could help fight a devastating fungus called stem rust, which attacks wheat crops and threatens global food security.

The discovery, published in Nature Plants, also identifies a gene in the fungus that triggers this resistance in the host plant, and together these discoveries provide a pathway to help wheat growers defend against this disease.

Stem rust, a virulent wheat disease (caused by the fungus Puccinia graminis) has become a major threat to wheat crops in Africa and other regions. Breeders and farmers need access to more resistant germplasm (seeds) to protect wheat yields from losses due to disease epidemics, like the Ug99 strain which is attacking wheat crops in Africa and the Middle East. Continue reading

Putting a local twist on durum wheat

A new government-funded project aims to establish if there is a market for artisan pasta, pizza and bread made from durum wheat grown in the Wairarapa.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is contributing $100,000 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to a $151,000 project led by the Foundation of Arable Research (FAR) that will evaluate the opportunity for a grower-owned value chain to supply the growing demand for high-end durum wheat flour in New Zealand.

The project builds on the findings of a 2017-2020 project funded by the ministry’s Sustainable Farming Fund, which looked at alternative crops that could be profitable for the Wairarapa as a response to the pea weevil incursion. Continue reading

Hotter, drier, CRISPR: gene editing of crops to meet climate-change challenges

Gene editing technology will play a vital role in climate-proofing future crops to protect global food supplies, according to scientists at The University of Queensland.

Biotechnologist Dr Karen Massel, from UQ’s Centre for Crop Science, has published a review of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 to safeguard food security in farming systems under stress from extreme and variable climate conditions.

“Farmers have been manipulating the DNA of plants using conventional breeding technologies for millennia, and now with new gene-editing technologies, we can do this with unprecedented safety, precision and speed,” Dr Massel said.

“This type of gene editing mimics the way cells repair in nature.”

Her review recommended integrating CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing into modern breeding programs for crop improvement in cereals.

Energy-rich cereal crops such as wheat, rice, maize and sorghum provide two-thirds of the world’s food energy intake.

“Just 15 plant crops provide 90 per cent of the world’s food calories,” Dr Massel said.

“It’s a race between a changing climate and plant breeders’ ability to produce crops with genetic resilience that grow well in adverse conditions and have enriched nutritional qualities.

“The problem is that it takes too long for breeders to detect and make that genetic diversity available to farmers, with a breeding cycle averaging about 15 years for cereal crops.

“Plus CRISPR allows us to do things we can’t do through conventional breeding in terms of generating novel diversity and improving breeding for desirable traits.”

In proof-of-concept studies, Dr Massel and colleagues at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) applied gene editing technology to sorghum and barley pre-breeding programs.

“In sorghum, we edited the plant’s genes to unlock the digestibility level of the available protein and to boost its nutritional value for humans and livestock,” she said.

“We’ve also used gene-editing to modify the canopy architecture and root architecture of both sorghum and barley, to improve water use efficiency.”

Dr Massel’s research also compared the different genome sequences of cereals — including wild variants and ancestors of modern cereals — to differences in crop performance in different climates and under different kinds of stresses.

“Wild varieties of production crops serve as a reservoir of genetic diversity, which is especially valuable when it comes to climate resilience,” she said.

“We are looking for genes or gene networks that will improve resilience in adverse growing climates.

“Once a viable gene variant is identified, the trick is to re-create it directly in high-performing cultivated crops without disrupting the delicate balance of genetics related to production traits.

“These kinds of changes can be so subtle that they are indistinguishable from the naturally occurring variants that inspired them.”

In 2019, Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator deregulated gene-editing, differentiating it from genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.

Gene edited crops are not yet grown in Australia, but biosecurity and safety risk assessments of the technology are currently being undertaken.

This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant with support from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and The University of Queensland.

Journal Reference:
  1. Karen Massel, Yasmine Lam, Albert C. S. Wong, Lee T. Hickey, Andrew K. Borrell, Ian D. Godwin. Hotter, drier, CRISPR: the latest edit on climate changeTheoretical and Applied Genetics, 2021; DOI: 10.1007/s00122-020-03764-0

Source:  ScienceDaily


Finding the best targets to improve crop yield by following CO2 journey inside the leaf

Scientists have measured the relative importance of the different obstacles that carbon dioxide (CO2) encounters in its voyage from the atmosphere to the interior of plant cells, where it is converted into sugars.  This provides much-needed information that will help to increase the yield of important food crops such as cowpea, soybean and cassava.

The research team’s data highlights promising targets to improve the diffusion of CO2 through the leaf with the aim of boosting crop productivity, says lead author Dr Tory Clarke, who works at The Australian National University (ANU).

The work was carried out by ANU researchers as part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP) and the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) project.  This is an international research project which aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops. Continue reading

Light signal emitted during photosynthesis is used to quickly screen crops

An international project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aims to transform crops’ ability to turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into higher yields. To achieve this, scientists are analysing thousands of plants to find out what tweaks to the plant’s structure or its cellular machinery could increase production.

University of Illinois researchers have revealed a new approach to estimate the photosynthetic capacity of crops to pinpoint these top-performing traits and speed up the screening process, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

“Photosynthesis is the entry point for carbon dioxide to become all the things that allow plants to grow, but measuring canopy photosynthesis is really difficult,” said Carl Bernacchi, a Research Plant Physiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, who is based at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

“Most methods are time-consuming and only measure a single leaf when it’s the function of all leaves on all plants that really matters in agriculture.” Continue reading