Plant Breeding for the Future

 

Plant Breeding for the Future

Plant Breeding for the Future

The future sustainability of food-crop production and industrial non-food crops depends on the continued development of new varieties that fulfil three key requirements:

  • Improved yield with reduced inputs
  • Yield stability and persistence under biotic and abiotic stresses
  • Enhanced quality for the end user

Although the focus of the breeding programmes is to enhance performance this needs to be combined with reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture in the UK and elsewhere. Delivering on these objectives needs continued breeding: combining conventional and new molecular breeding technologies. Crop improvement requires a better understanding of the underlying factors controlling traits at many levels - from molecular through physiology to agronomy and supply chains.

Crops

Crops

IBERS’ research in plant breeding focuses on a number of crops due to its unique position and history of long term alliances with commercial partners.   
 
Forage crops, particularly perennial ryegrass and clovers underpin pastoral agriculture. The diploid perennial ryegrass breeding programme have, and keeps delivering high sugar grass varieties, which improve efficiency of livestock nutrition. Novel grasses, such as Festuloliums, are bred to deliver productivity and resilience to climate extremes. Likewise, interspecific clover hybrid varieties, such as AberLasting have been bred to improve resilience to abiotic stresses, as well as better persistency. Our varieties are commercialised via  a >30 year relationship with Germinal.  

Oats provide health benefits as well as a plethora of novel food, feed and other products and provide biodiversity in rotations. Over 80% of winter oats grown in the UK in 2020 were from varieties bred in Aberystwyth and marketed by our long term partner Senova 

Pulses (field beans and peas) introduce a much needed nitrogen fixing crop for arable rotations and give a high-protein end product for human nutrition and animal feeds.  Two new winter bean varieties bred at Aberystwyth University, Norton and Vincent were added to the PGRO Descriptive List in 2020 and represent a substantial yield advance on existing varieties. These varieties are marketed by Senova as part of a joint venture with Wherry & Sons.
 
Miscanthus and other energy crops provide lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks for industrial purposes. Miscanthus breeding at IBERS started in 2004 with the collection and characterisation of wild germplasm from Asia and exploratory crossing using controlled environments to synchronise flowering. In 2019 ten hybrids were licenced to commercial partners of which six are in widespread yield trials and are under evaluation for variety registration.

Genetic Resources and the Seed Biobank

Underpinning the plant breeding programmes is a large collection of ex-situ conserved germplasm mainly consisting of our mandate crop species. This collection is a constituent of the nationwide UK Plant Genetic Resources network. This is housed in the new Seed Biobank Controlled Environment facility which also includes bulk seed processing capability where the early generations of IBERS varieties are processed, quality controlled and maintained for further multiplication by our commercial partners.

In addition, we have established an apple and pear heritage variety orchard. This is a  genetically unique collection of apple and pear germplasm, much of which originated from Welsh farms, is being collected, grown, conserved and evaluated for potential future use in helping to meet biodiversity improvement and climate change mitigation challenges, as well as providing options for farm income diversity strategies.
 
Novel uses of crops include protein extraction from forage for monogastric feedstock. The quality of plant breeding at IBERS is reflected in the consistent prevalence of IBERS varieties on recommended lists in the UK, and the institute is continuously registering new varieties in all crops with the CPVO to allow for commercial exploitation.

Biotechnology

To underpin our understanding of gene structure and function, particularly for the genetic control of recombination and other breeding-related traits, we maintain a transformation pipeline in a number of species including Brachypodium and Lolium perenne. This pipeline also facilitates the development and optimisation of Crispr-based gene editing in those species.

Goals

Breeding Goals

Long term goals in breeding that require inputs from fundamental research include: 

  • Incorporation of genomics assisted breeding to accelerate genetic gain.
  • Exploiting genome sequence data to better understand traits and direct crosses
  • Use of new technology (drones, machine learning, AI) for phenotyping in the field.
  • Breeding targets for zero carbon and climate friendly farming – carbon sequestration, root   growth, resilience to climate change, persistency. 
  • Improvement of nutrient use efficiency to reduce inputs.
  • Breeding forages with improved quality traits that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. 
  • Novel uses of forage crops, pulses and oats, such as extraction of protein for monogastric feed
    and plant-based diets.
  • Improved resilience of grain quality traits (oats) as demanded by millers and end-users. 
  • Multistress tolerance & resilience to sudden adverse weather events (drought, waterlogging). 
  • Improvement of breeding efficiency (accuracy of selection) using high throughput phenotyping. 
  • Pre-breeding to identify novel alleles and increase genetic diversity.
  • Understanding of adaptation- matching phenology to environment.
  • Development of benchmarks for farmers and crop growth models.
  • The addressing of the agricultural productivity gap through improvements in crop yield and yield stability.
  • New methods of plant breeding (gene editing, speed breeding) and recombination control

Current Projects

Current Projects

Core Strategic Programme in Resilient Crops BBSRC (2017-2022)   
BBS/E/W/0012843A http://www.resilientcrops.org 
 
Oat domestication - understanding the origin of a European cereal 
Funder: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Grant number: BB/S008195/1 (2018-2021) 
 
Genetic improvement of pea to replace soyabean in the diets of poultry and monogastric livestock (PeaGen) BBSRC Link BB/P017517 https://www.pgro.org/peagen-project/ (2017-22) 
 
Food BioSystems Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) (2019-2021) https://research.reading.ac.uk/foodbiosystems/ 
 
Oat Breeding (industrial funding from Senova) 
 
Pulse Breeding (industrial funding from UK Pulses) 
 
Nitrogen and sulphur fertiliser management for yield and quality in winter and spring oats (NoatS) AHDB 2018-2022 
 
The influence of genotype, environment and management factors on yield development, grain filling and grain quality in oats (Walsh Fellowship) 
 
Understanding milling efficiency in oats: developing tools to improve grain quality (Walsh Fellowship) 
 
“Grazing tolerant red clover for future livestock farming”. CIEL Seed Funding (2020-2021). Germinal with IBERS (£50K) 
 
“Red clover as a cash crop: Protein for monogastric farm animals and metabolites for human health (RC-Promo)”. WEFO SMARTExpertise 2020/82292 (2020-2022) IBERS, Germinal Holdings Ltd, Blue Sky Botanics – (£264K) 
 
“Improved resistance of red clover to soil borne pathogens for sustainable livestock production”. WEFO SMARTExpertise 2017/COL/008 (2018-2021) IBERS, Germinal Holdings Ltd and Hybu Cig Cymru – (£250K) 
 
“Maximising the value of commercial forage grass seed production”. Innovate UK/BBSRC 93314-562353/TS/R005133/1 (2017-2020) Germinal Holdings and IBERS - Co-I (£207K) 
 
“EUCLEG - Breeding forage and grain legumes to increase EU's and China's protein self-sufficiency”. EU Horizon 2020 (H2020-SFS-2016-2 727312-2). 38 partners (2017-2021) - (€5M) - http://www.eucleg.eu
 
“Genetics of crown rot resistance in red clover” KESS II PhD studentship (2017-2020) IBERS and Germinal Holdings –  (£52K) 
 
“Genomic selection for utilisation, seed production and animal health traits in white clover” (2017-2021) Teagasc Walsh Fellowship – (€145K) 

Completed Projects

Recently completed projects

 
BBBSRC-LINK, AHDB,  Developing enhanced breeding methodologies for oats for human health and nutrition (InnovOat) 2014- 2019 Industry partners Senova and BOBMA http://www.innovoat.uk/ 
 
Optimising oat yield and quality to deliver sustainable production and economic impact (Opti-Oat) Innovate UK 2014-2018 https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=BB%2FM02749X%2F1 
 
UKRI-NRC Prototyping Root System Architecture in Avena: Technologies for Environmental Sustainability and Food Security BB/S020926/1 
 
“Novel strategies for genetic improvement of disease resistance in perennial ryegrass”. Innovate UK/BBSRC 47055-329315/ BB/M028267/1. (2015-2020) Germinal Holdings and IBERS (£730K) 
 
“Comparative population genomics of red clover domestication and improvement” BBSRC-IPA BB/L023563/1 with TGAC and Germinal Holdings (2014-2017) (£741K) 
 
“Genomics-assisted breeding for fatty acid content and composition in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) BBSRC LINK1 award (with Germinal Holdings and Hybu Cig Cymru) BB/K017160/1 (2013-2018) (£999,435) 
 
GIANT-LINK: Genetic improvement of miscanthus as a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy in the UK (£6.4M) 
 
MUST: Miscanthus upscaling technology (£1.8M) 

History

History

There is a proud history of plant breeding at Aberystwyth dating back over 100 years. The timelines and posters below feature some of the highlights of this history for specific plants.

100 Years of Plant Collecting

100 Years of Plant Breeding

A Century of Clover Breeding

A Century of Clover Breeding

Forage Grass Breeding

Forage Grass Breeding

 Miscanthus Breeding Timeline

Miscanthus Breeding Timeline

Oat Breeding Timeline

Oat Breeding Timeline

 

IBERS is looking forward to the next 100 years with great optimism. The deployment of new technologies, the development of technologies as yet unimagined and a likely widening of breeding and research remits to meet the needs of a wide range of food and non-food supply chains all hold great promise. Partnerships between specialists in these technologies and adaptable plant breeders will be required, leading to the continued success of plant breeding in Aberystwyth.

Principal Investigators

Principal Investigators

Picture Name Email Telephone
Prof Ian Armstead ipa@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823108
Dr Sandy Cowan syc@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823193
Dr Narcis Fernandez Fuentes naf4@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 621680
Dr Catherine Howarth cnh@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823107
Prof Huw Jones hdj2@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823015
Dr Tim Langdon ttl@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823060
Dr Dylan Phillips dwp@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 621617
Prof Leif Skot lfs@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823133
Dr Danny Thorogood dnt@aber.ac.uk +44 (0) 1970 823176

Publications

Publications

More publications on the Research Portal »