Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University part of game-changing gene discovery

Scientists from Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University have contributed knowledge integral to the discovery of a new gene described as a game-changer for global agriculture.

The gene allows natural reproduction by cloning in plants, allowing highly desirable traits to be carried through to the next generation rather than lost when the plants reproduce through pollination.

The New Zealand scientists have been working with scientists in the Netherlands (at research company KeyGene and Wageningen University & Research or WUR) and Japan (at breeding company Takii) to identify ways to produce plant seeds that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

The research was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

The newly discovered gene, named PAR, controls parthenogenesis, a process whereby plant egg cells spontaneously grow into embryos without fertilisation. Normally, the PAR gene is triggered by fertilisation, but in plants that reproduce by apomixis – a type of reproduction which does not require fertilisation – the PAR gene switches on spontaneously, so the egg cells are triggered to start dividing into a new embryo. Continue reading

How climate change is affecting the way plants grow

Plants are changing the way they grow in response to a warming climate, but what’s happening above ground doesn’t necessarily match what’s happening under the surface, according to international experts.

The team analysed 88 studies on the impact of climate change on plant growth, and found herbaceous plants were beginning and ending their growing seasons earlier above ground. However, the researchers say the activity underground for the same plants was unchanged.

In woody plants the researchers say they found the opposite – growth patterns didn’t change above ground but the growing season underground was extended.

The researchers say more data is needed to understand the difference between above and below-ground changes.

Their paper on plant responses to climate change may differ above and below ground as been published in Nature Climate Change.

A press statement announcing the research says:

The timing of plant life events — such as the emergence of spring leaves, flowering and the loss of leaves in the autumn — is crucial for their fitness and survival and has important implications for human food resources, ecosystem functioning and carbon cycles worldwide. Climate change has led to shifts in various plant life events, as demonstrated by above-ground changes. However, changes that may be occurring in the soil have been under-investigated — despite the important role of root systems in plant growth and terrestrial ecosystem productivity.

Xuhui Zhou and colleagues analysed data from 88 published studies, revealing a mismatch between above- and below-ground plant responses to climate change, which differ depending on the type of plant investigated. Herbaceous plants, for example, were found to have an earlier start and end to their above-ground growing season, resulting in no change in overall growing season length; however, below-ground responses remained unchanged. By contrast, in woody plants, climate warming did not change above-ground responses but did extend the below-ground growing season.

In their conclusion, the authors emphasise caution in interpreting these results given the study’s small sample size. This is owing to available data constraints, in particular, the limited availability of studies focused on below-ground changes, which can strongly influence plant growth and terrestrial carbon cycles. Subsequently, they suggest  there is an urgent need for further research

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41558-021-01244-x

Source:  Scimex 

Northland peanut industry is taken one step closer

A recent government-backed project proved that peanuts can be grown successfully in Northland.  Additional government funding is now facilitating the next step towards commercialisation.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is contributing nearly $700,000 to a new peanut growing trial through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures), with an additional $300,000 in cash and in-kind support from Northland Inc, Picot Productions, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research, and local Northland landowners.

“The findings of a six-month feasibility study we supported through SFF Futures late last year were encouraging,” says Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes.

“This new project will build upon the initial findings to determine whether it’s financially viable to plant, harvest, and process peanuts at scale.” Continue reading

Funding of hemp fibre innovation set to propel New Zealand on to world stage

New Government funding will help a New Zealand hemp fibre company explore untapped opportunities – from soft flooring to food packaging that’s more environmentally sustainable.

The Government is contributing $1.34 million through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to New Zealand Natural Fibres’ (NZNF) five-year research and development programme project.

NZNF is the only hemp fibre company in New Zealand that controls its own supply chain end-to-end. The company is contributing a further $2 million in cash and in kind to the project.

“We plan to use the SFF Futures funding to develop our hemp growing, processing and marketing capability to ‘go further, faster’ towards taking a global leadership position in the development of industrial and consumer products made from hemp fibre,” says NZNF CEO Colin McKenzie.

“We are very pleased to have received government backing to continue our work with hemp fibre, which has huge potential to be part of the solution to some of the most crucial environmental challenges facing our planet today.

“We’re especially excited about ramping up our work to develop some innovative new products.” Continue reading

AI helps design the perfect chickpea

A massive international research effort has led to development of a genetic model for the ‘ultimate’ chickpea, with the potential to lift crop yields by up to 12 per cent.

The research consortium genetically mapped thousands of C and the UQ team then used this information to identify the most valuable gene combinations using artificial intelligence (AI).

Professor Ben Hayes led the UQ component of the project with Professor Kai Voss-Fels and Associate Professor Lee Hickey, to develop a ‘haplotype’ genomic prediction crop breeding strategy, for enhanced performance for seed weight.

“Most crop species only have a few varieties sequenced, so it was a massive undertaking by the international team to analyse more than 3000 cultivated and wild varieties,” Professor Hayes said.

The landmark international study was led by Dr Rajeev Varshney from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India. The study confirmed chickpea’s origin in the Fertile Crescent and provides a complete picture of genetic variation within chickpea.

“We identified 1,582 novel genes and established the pan-genome of chickpea, which will serve as a foundation for breeding superior chickpea varieties with enhanced yield, higher resistance to drought, heat and diseases,” Dr Varshney said.

Professor Hayes said the UQ team used the data to model a chickpea with perfect genetics for seed weight, a trait linked to yield.

“This additional data led to the increase in yield predicted by our model, which is still being fine-tuned,” he said.

“We are using our AI ‘FastStack’ technology platform to design a chickpea with the ultimate genetics for maximum seed weight, and we think this will ultimately be a valuable tool for chickpea breeders.”

FastStack combines AI with genomic prediction technology to identify the combinations of genes most likely to improve crop performance.

Chickpea is the largest pulse crop in Australia after lupin, both in terms of planting area and production.

It ranks second in area and third in production among the pulses worldwide.

UQ plant breeder and crop geneticist, Associate Professor Lee Hickey, said the global demand for protein-rich pulses was increasing.

“Improving the productivity of chickpea for Australia offers opportunities for our farmers to supply local food industries and export markets,” he said.

“Using this AI-generated chickpea model for increased seed weight in the field will be challenging, given the number of generations it will take in cross-breeding for optimal chickpea genetics, and the impact of different environments and management practices on crop growth.

“But we do have tools like speed breeding that can speed this process up and allows us to test and put into practice these theoretical scenarios.”

Dr Hickey said new genomic breeding approaches, including the haplotype model, are expected to redefine chickpea breeding strategies for developing high-yielding and nutritious chickpea varieties.

Chickpea is an important rotation crop in farming systems, as it is self-fertilising for nitrogen, reducing the need fornitrogen fertiliser.

Journal Reference:
  1. Rajeev K. Varshney, Manish Roorkiwal, Shuai Sun, Prasad Bajaj, Annapurna Chitikineni, Mahendar Thudi, Narendra P. Singh, Xiao Du, Hari D. Upadhyaya, Aamir W. Khan, Yue Wang, Vanika Garg, Guangyi Fan, Wallace A. Cowling, José Crossa, Laurent Gentzbittel, Kai Peter Voss-Fels, Vinod Kumar Valluri, Pallavi Sinha, Vikas K. Singh, Cécile Ben, Abhishek Rathore, Ramu Punna, Muneendra K. Singh, Bunyamin Tar’an, Chellapilla Bharadwaj, Mohammad Yasin, Motisagar S. Pithia, Servejeet Singh, Khela Ram Soren, Himabindu Kudapa, Diego Jarquín, Philippe Cubry, Lee T. Hickey, Girish Prasad Dixit, Anne-Céline Thuillet, Aladdin Hamwieh, Shiv Kumar, Amit A. Deokar, Sushil K. Chaturvedi, Aleena Francis, Réka Howard, Debasis Chattopadhyay, David Edwards, Eric Lyons, Yves Vigouroux, Ben J. Hayes, Eric von Wettberg, Swapan K. Datta, Huanming Yang, Henry T. Nguyen, Jian Wang, Kadambot H. M. Siddique, Trilochan Mohapatra, Jeffrey L. Bennetzen, Xun Xu, Xin Liu. A chickpea genetic variation map based on the sequencing of 3,366 genomesNature, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04066-1

Source:  ScienceDaily

MPI backs project to establish internationally competitive hemp seed processing plant

A new project backed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) aims to establish a hemp seed processing plant in New Zealand that could be a game changer for the local hemp industry.

MPI is contributing more than $245,000 to Hemp Connect’s 2-year pilot project through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.

The project ultimately aims to enable locally grown hemp food products to compete with imported varieties. Since 2020, the Levin-based company has been working on creative solutions for processing New Zealand grown hemp more efficiently and reducing production costs. Continue reading

Celebration and legislation – significant times for New Zealand plant breeding

For plant breeders the next two months will mark two significant achievements.

First, November 8th is the 40th anniversary of NZs accession to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention.

Second, by the end of December Parliament is scheduled to have passed the Plant Variety Rights Bill (PVR), which will align our domestic law with the globally agreed convention.

The NZ Plant Breeding and Research Association’s general manger, Thomas Chin, said the new legislation is important for plant breeders because it gives rights holders’ stronger measures to guard against infringements to their intellectual property (IP).

A major change under the new PVR Bill will enable plant breeders, through the regulations, to seek exemptions to the practice of farm saved seed. Continue reading

Researcher Cathy McKenna wins 2021 Kiwifruit Innovation Award

Plant & Food Research’s Cathy McKenna has won the 2021 Kiwifruit Innovation Award for her work to create an effective armoured scale insect management programme for Gold3 (SunGold) Kiwifruit.

Over two seasons of trials, Ms McKenna spearheaded a research team that developed a year-round programme capable of ensuring the high level of scale control required to satisfy market access requirements.

Armoured scale are insects which can cause cosmetic defects on kiwifruit and once populations build up on vines, they are difficult to bring back down.

Ms McKenna is Team Leader, Kiwifruit Entomology at Plant & Food Research. Continue reading

Sunflowers a rotational crop option for New Zealand growers

Growing sunflowers to produce high-oleic oil could provide additional income for New Zealand growers as a rotational crop during the summer period, new research has found.

The Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) has concluded a three-year project looking at crop options to raise profitability and provide alternative land uses. The project received $90,000 through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) Sustainable Farming Fund (now superseded by the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund). High-oleic varieties of sunflowers were identified as a promising crop.

“Our research shows we have the conditions in New Zealand for successful sunflower crops, with yield potential in excess of 4.5 tonnes per hectare,” says Ivan Lawrie, FAR’s general manager business operations.

“What’s more, consumer demand is strong for high-oleic sunflower oil, which is a top-quality oil with a higher smoke point than regular sunflower oil, and many sought-after health attributes, including low saturated fat content and high monounsaturated fat.” Continue reading

Dr Matt Glenn is named inaugural Kiwifruit Breeding Centre CEO

The board of the newly established Kiwifruit Breeding Centre has appointed Dr Matt Glenn as its inaugural Chief Executive Officer.

He will be based in the Bay of Plenty,

The centre, a 50/50 joint venture between Plant & Food Research and Zespri, has been established to drive greater innovation within kiwifruit breeding, and to create healthier, better tasting and more sustainability-focused varieties.

Board chairman Michael Ahie says the appointment of Dr Glenn followed an extensive recruitment search. Continue reading