NIAB at forefront of research to improve food security in developing countries

7th Dec 2012

Plant scientists at NIAB are playing a leading role in a new multi-agency research project to improve the sustainability of vital food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

NIAB is involved in four of the 11 recently announced Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) projects which aim to develop staple crops better able to resist pests or thrive in harsh environmental conditions. The four projects are:

· Finding genes to protect global wheat crops against devastating stem rust disease - helping to develop DNA marker technologies within public and private wheat breeding programmes in South Africa and Kenya, allowing the breeding of new high-yielding, rust resistant wheat varieties;

· Preventing bean root rot devastation – providing genomics and molecular breeding expertise to the sole African-led SCPRID project to characterise and breed resistance to bean root rots, and part of the Project for Emerging African Leaders (PEARL);

· Global DNA sequencing to tackle wheat’s worst enemy - collaborating with the John Innes Centre alongside the Sainsbury Laboratory and the University of East Anglia on tackling the threat of yellow rusts using global DNA sequencing to understand how rusts have evolved and spread;

· Mixing the old with the new - working with the University of Cambridge on improving modern rice varieties by accessing new sources of genetic diversity from wild rice relatives.

The SCPRID programme is a unique £16 million initiative, involving over 40 international research organisations, harnessing bioscience to improve food security in developing countries. It is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), together with (through a grant awarded to BBSRC) the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology. Each SCPRID project includes at least one partner from the UK and one from a developing nation.

“Our central involvement in the SCPRID programme recognises the expanding plant genetic research capabilities at NIAB and reinforces our continuing commitment to support developing world agriculture,” said NIAB CEO Dr Tina Barsby, who recently visited Uganda and Tanzania as part of the BioSciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) project, which promotes better understanding of developments in agriculture and biosciences throughout Africa.

“We’ve been collaborating with African universities and plant science institutes for many years, and will shortly be announcing new plans to expand this programme even further through our NIAB Innovation Farm initiative. NIAB’s mission is to support improved crop production at home and overseas, and we are committed to bringing together UK and African researchers, funders and industry seeking to use plant science to address the global challenges presented by a growing population and a changing climate,” says Dr Barsby.

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