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Major investment to persuade bacteria to help cereals self-fertilise | The John Innes Centre


 

English: John Innes Centre, Norwich

English: John Innes Centre, Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The John Innes Centre will lead a $9.8m research project to investigate whether it is possible to initiate a symbiosis between cereal crops and bacteria. The symbiosis could help cereals access nitrogen from the air to improve yields. The five-year research project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could have most immediate benefit for subsistence farmers.

As a result, yields are 15 to 20 per cent of their potential. Nitrogen fertilisers also come with an environmental cost. Making and applying them contributes half the carbon footprint of agriculture and causes environmental pollution.

“A new method of nitrogen fertilisation is needed for the African Green Revolution,” said Professor Oldroyd.

“Delivering new technology within the seed of crops has many benefits for farmers as well as the environment, such as self-reliance and equity,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The new research will investigate the possibility of engineering cereals to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and of delivering this technology through the seed. If it is found to work, farmers would be able to share the technology by sharing seed. And the research opens the door to the use of grasses as rotational crops to enhance soil nitrogen.

“We’re excited about the long-term potential of this research to transform the lives of small farmers who depend on agriculture for their food and livelihoods,” said Katherine Kahn, senior program officer of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We need innovation for farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  Improving access to nitrogen could dramatically boost the crop yields of farmers in Africa.”

The focus of the investigation will be maize, the most important staple crop for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Parallel studies in the wild grass Setaria viridis, which has a smaller genome and shorter life cycle, will speed up the rate of discovery. Discoveries will be applicable to all cereal crops including wheat, barley and rice.

The research will start by attempting to engineer in maize the ability to sense nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. This may be enough to activate a symbiosis that provides some fixed nitrogen. Even slight increases could improve yields for farmers who do not have access to fertilisers.

“We have developed a pretty good understanding of how legumes such as peas and beans evolved the ability to recruit soil bacteria to access the nitrogen they need,” said Professor Oldroyd. ”Even the most primitive symbiotic relationship with bacteria benefited the plant, and this is where we hope to start in cereals.”

In the most basic symbiosis, bacteria are housed in simple swellings on the root of the plant, providing the low oxygen environment needed. In more highly evolved legumes, the plant produces a specialised organ, the nodule, to house bacteria.

Bacteria can infect the plant through cracks or through more complex tunnels built by the plant called infection threads. As the complexity of the interaction increases, so does the efficiency with which bacteria fix nitrogen for the plant.

“In the long term, we anticipate that the research will follow the evolutionary path, building up the level of complexity and improving the benefits to the plant,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The project will also help highlight where more research is needed. It will run in parallel to ongoing research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council into how nitrogen fixation works in legumes. It will also run in parallel to an existing Gates-funded project, N2Africa, to improve nitrogen management in African farming systems more immediately.

About the John Innes Centre:

The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, is a world-leading research centre based on the Norwich Research Park http://www.norwichresearchpark.com. The JIC’s mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy. JIC  is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in General

 

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The Importance and Challenge of rapid multiplication of Vegetative Crops in Africa | Africaseed.net


This is a kumara (a kind of sweet potato). Deu...

Kumara (a kind of sweet potato).

Realizing the potential of Africa’s vegetative crops requires new tools for rapid multiplication of healthy and improved planting material 

Bananas, plantains, cassava, potato and sweet-potato, as well as other indigenous African root vegetables are key in solving Africa’s food and income security challenges. The total production of these crops almost doubles that of maize, rice and wheat in Africa. These vegetatively propagated crops are an excellent source of cheap energy and are a key staple foods in Sub-Saharan Africa. The importance of these crops is well known for example East African Highland bananas in the African Great Lakes region, and Cassava and Plantains in West Africa. Some cultivars are very nutritious because they are rich in vitamins or essential minerals. Research shows that a family of five could meet their annual vitamin A requirements from only a small 10 x 50 meter plot of recently developed orange flesh sweet-potato, even at low yield levels of around 5 tonnes per hectare.

Root and vegetative crops such as these are mostly produced, processed, and traded in farm households or locally, making them less vulnerable than grain to abrupt price changes in international markets. Cassava and sweet-potato can be grown in marginal conditions and nontraditional areas, and can be produced with relatively few inputs because of their ability to tolerate many abiotic stresses such as drought or heat or poor soils. In some agro-ecosystems, they often complement cereals to cut risk and make more efficient use of resources by providing food earlier in the farming calendar or by be planted in otherwise fallow periods between grain crops. They are also known as “famine crops” because of their particular role during the “lean or hunger season” when their tuberous roots can be harvested as needed to meet shortfalls in grain.  and other vegetative crops. A uniquely African Green Revolution requires urgent improvements in the supply of  new and improved cultivars of these vegetative crops.

Multiplication and dissemination of new varieties requires new innovation in greenhouse, tissue-culture, micro-propagation and decentralized field multiplications of healthy planting materials. In Africa today, farmer or commercial multiplication of these crops is very low compared with multiplication of cereal and pulse seed. Most planting materials used by farmers are often of poor quality because they are infected with pests and diseases, which perpetuate (and exacerbate) pest losses through successive growth cycles. Newly developed higher yielding, or disease and pest tolerant cultivars, have not been made available in sufficient and reliable quantities to satisfy the demands of African growers.

The best strategy to deliver healthy planting materials for vegetatively propagated crops includes micro-propagation of healthy propagules of selected germplasm along with multiplication in greenhouses, shade-houses and field plots. Micro-propagation is the process of growing tissue culture for plant shoot-tips in a laboratory until they are ready for transplant into the field. This propagation system significantly reduces pathogen incidence and may dramatically improve yield when coupled with good agronomic practices. Micro-propagation systems can easily include quality control to ensure certification and delivery of “clean” propagules. Tissue culture-derived materials can rapidly grow, helping  the introduction of newly bred germplasm at reasonable cost and speed.  They are also amenable to biological enhancement (e.g. with endophytes that extend the benefits of “clean” planting material) before delivery to farmers. Macro-propagation will be further use to multiply additional clean planting material locally and at a lower cost. However, when re‐infection rates are high, a continual supply of new planting material will be a must for annual or biennial replanting or these vegetatively propagated crops.

Phytosanitary testing to support schemes for certifying the quality of such materials throughout the production chain will be also a key element for this rapid multiplication system. The production, conditioning, and marketing of certified planting materials will be the responsibility of the public or private grower but the certifying agency must verify that they follow the approved regulations outlined by the national authority to meet the required standards for certification.

African Seed Network
Guest Contribution by Rodomiro Ortiz, PhD
(rodomiro.ortiz@slu.se)
Professor, Genetics and Plant Breeding
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Alnarp, Sweden

Rodomiro Ortiz worked as researcher at UNALM, CIP (Perú), Rutgers Univ. (USA) and IITA (Nigeria), held a Nordic professorship in plant genetic resources at the Univ. Copenhagen (Denmark), and director at ICRISAT (India), IITA and CIMMYT (México).
 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in General

 

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