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£1.25 million for cereals research

Photograph of a glass of whisky and ears of barley
This new funding will enable us to work towards new, improved crop varieties which will not only result in better yields and quality but will also require less inputs making them more sustainable too.

The James Hutton Institute has been awarded £1.25 million for projects to help improve the quality and reliability of malting barley, increase knowledge of root development and identify disease resistance in barley.

The awards have been made as part of the Crop Improvement Research Club which aims to deliver improvements to oilseed rape and the main UK cereal crops, wheat and barley therefore boosting efforts to ensure food security.

The four projects the James Hutton Institute were successful in securing are among nine announced by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which represent an investment of over £4 million by BBSRC, the Scottish Government and 14 companies including plant breeders, farmers and food processors.

Dr Bill Thomas, an expert in barley genetics at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, said: “This new funding will enable us to work towards new, improved crop varieties which will not only result in better yields and quality but will also require less inputs making them more sustainable too.”

Two projects will work with the whisky and brewing industries to help improve malting barley varieties leading to better processing and more reliable markets for farmers. As part of the project to improve processability of barley, researchers at the James Hutton Institute will identify DNA markers that can be used in barley breeding programmes to eliminate potential varieties with processing problems.

This can save plant breeders up to £1million of development costs for varieties found to have processing problems as well as saving brewers and distillers cleaning costs and plant ‘down time’, which can be considerable when processing batches of up to 250t.

The second project, led by SAC, will also use genetic markers to identify varieties susceptible to skinning, which results in possible variation in water uptake and uneven germination during malting. Using more reliable varieties will result in savings in handling and processing costs for the UK malting industry, brewers and distillers and will also benefit farmers who grow more robust varieties, ensuring skinning does not affect their malting premium of £30- £50 per tonne of grain.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute will lead a project to identify and select novel sources of resistance to Rhynchosporium that can be used in barley breeding. Using this form of resistance will improve yield stability and quality of new barley cultivars as well as help to minimise seed-borne infection. It will also lead to reduction of fungicide use in line with new EU regulations.

Improving knowledge of root development and traits to develop crop varieties with improved resource use efficiency, establishment and yield is another project researchers in Dundee will take part in. The project is led by the University of Nottingham and will examine barley, oilseed rape and wheat.

The Crop Improvement Research Club is a £7.06 million, five-year partnership between BBSRC, the Scottish Government and a consortium of leading companies, aimed at supporting innovative and excellent research to underpin the development of improved crop varieties that deliver increased productivity and consistent, high quality end products.

Notes to editors

The four projects and staff involved from the James Hutton Institute are as follows.

  • Improving the processability of malting barley
    Staff: Bill Thomas, Luke Ramsay, Pete Hedley, Christine Hackett, Stuart Swanston, Hazel Bull
  • Causes and control of grain skinning in malting barley: Phenotyping and genetic analysis
    Staff: Bill Thomas, Pete Hedley, Christine Hackett, Tom Shepherd
  • Fungal effectors as activators of novel resistances in cereals
    Staff: Anna Avrova, Adrian Newton, Mark Looseley, Micha Bayer
  • Delivering low-cost, high-throughput root phenotyping screens for arable crops
    Staff: Philip White, Lionel Dupuy

The full BBSRC CIRC funding announcement is online here.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.