Posts Tagged ‘John Innes Centre’

Global warming could cause key culinary crops to release seeds prematurely

British researchers show that higher temperatures accelerate seed dispersal in crop species belonging to the cabbage and mustard plant family, limiting reproductive success.

This effect is mediated by a gene called INDEHISCENT. The findings appear this week in the journal Molecular Plant.

“In many crops, such as oilseed rape, premature seed dispersal is one of the major causes of crop loss. In the context of climate change, this could become increasingly severe,” says co-senior author Vinod Kumar, a plant developmental biologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.

“This study exposes the potential vulnerabilities of crop production in the warming world and paves the way for addressing this problem.”

Plants have an extraordinary ability to adjust their life cycle to suit a range of environmental conditions. For example, despite day-to-day changes in weather and temperature, the release of seeds stays in tune with prevailing seasonal conditions.

“Seed dispersal is also a key trait that must be controlled when domesticating plants for food production,” says co-senior author Lars Østergaard, a plant geneticist at the John Innes Centre.

“With the prospect of climate change affecting crop performance, we wanted to understand how environmental signals such as temperature affect seed dispersal.”

One clue came from the observation that Arabidopsis plants, which belong to the Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage) family, mature and open their seed pods faster when grown at elevated temperatures. Inspired by this observation, Xin-Ran Li, a postdoctoral researcher with Kumar and Østergaard and first author of the study, set out to investigate.

They found a rise in temperature, from 22ºC to 27ºC, accelerated pod shattering and seed dispersal in Arabidopsis plants and important Brassicaceae crops such as oilseed rape, a key ingredient in vegetable oil. Moreover, elevated temperatures accelerated seed dispersal by enhancing the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, which is known to regulate the development of seed pod tissue and promote fruit opening.

“We speculate that such mechanisms have evolved to facilitate proper seasonal timing of dispersal to ensure that seeds are released under conditions that are both timely and climatically optimal for germination,” Li says. “There could perhaps be a selective advantage in early maturation and dispersal in the wild.”

Beyond the evolutionary implications, the findings could have broad relevance for maintaining yields of important crops. Oilseed rape is one of the largest sources of vegetable oil in the world and is also used for biofuel and animal feed.

More generally, the Brassicaceae family includes many economically valuable agricultural crops, including cabbage, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, turnip, radish, and rutabaga.

“We were excited by the discovery that what we found in the model plant Arabidopsis also holds true for both crop plants, such as oilseed rape, as well as non-domesticated species from the Brassicaceae family,” Kumar says. “This highlights the significance of our findings both in the wild as well as in the field.”

Based on their study, the research team suggests new strategies for preparing crops for global warming. For example, plant breeding efforts could focus on developing temperature-resilient varieties capable of coping with climate change. Moreover, gene-editing tools, such as the CRISPR/Cas system, could be used to reduce the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, thereby delaying seed release and reducing crop loss.

For their own part, Kumar and Østergaard plan to further investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying temperature-induced changes in seed dispersal.

They hope that by understanding this in detail, they will be better equipped to devise strategies to breed for crop resilience to climate change.

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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.

Genetically modified purple tomato has longer shelf life – and may offer health benefits, too

The GM tomato, which gains its unusual purple colour from a natural pigment known as anthocyanin, could be picked and shipped later due to its longer shelf life, according to a report (here) in The Telegraph. That would allow more time for flavour to develop on the vine.

Tests showed the shelf life of the tomatoes more than doubled from an average of 21 to 48 days after genetic modification, and they were less likely to go mouldy after harvest, The Telegraph says.

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