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James Hutton Institute secures share of £3 million research funding into some of the world’s most important crops

Potatoes and onions © Ilana Shkolnik via PikiWiki (Wikimedia)
“This project will allow us to work closely with industry to get a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying processes taking place during commercial storage of these important crops.

The James Hutton Institute has secured more than £850,000 in new funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council who, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, has awarded £3 million to four projects to improve food security for some of the world’s most valuable crops.

The £2.99 million funding is the first round of awards from BBSRC’s Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) which supports high-quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops. The Scottish Government has contributed £627,097 towards the research.

HAPI brings academic researchers together with industry in order to deliver bigger yields of better quality fruits and vegetables for the consumer, through more sustainable farming practices.

Dr Glenn Bryan, James Hutton Institute is Principal Investigator on the £1 million project ‘Controlling dormancy and sprouting in potato and onion’ which involves Imperial College London, University of Greenwich and Cranfield University, PepsiCo, Albert Bartlett, Potato Council and Mylnefield Research Services, one of the Institute’s commercial affiliates.

The new project will seek to tackle problems during long term storage of onion and potato which can lead to losses when these crops sprout during storage. Storage techniques to prevent sprouting are often expensive and environmentally unsustainable.

The research will use advances in biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology to identify the genetic basis of dormancy and sprouting in onion and potato and seek to understand the physiological and molecular control steps, with a view to improving storage and reducing losses.

“Current storage practices for potato and onion are not sustainable, due to the high energy requirements used for cooling and to the chemical sprout suppressants that are currently used being subjected to increasingly restrictive legislation,” explained Dr Bryan. “This project will allow us to work closely with industry to get a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying processes taking place during commercial storage of these important crops.

Researchers from the James Hutton Institute are also partners on two of the other projects receiving HAPI funding ‘Establishing biofumigation as a sustainable pesticide replacement for control of soil-borne pests and pathogens in potato and horticultural crops’ led by Professor Peter Urwin, University of Leeds and ‘Strategies for integrated deployment of host resistance and fungicides to sustain effective crop protection’ led by Dr Frank Van den Bosch, Rothamsted Research.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: “Potato is the world’s third most important food crop after wheat and rice, with millions of people worldwide depending on it for food, feed and income.

“With a growing world population predicted to reach nine billion people by 2050, this research looking at maximising yields and minimising losses will advance knowledge and benefit UK and world-wide potato producers, thus contributing to an important UK economic sector and helping us towards achieving global food security.

The four projects focus on potato and onion, but the findings could have applications for a wide range of crops and agriculture.

HAPI will be releasing a second call for research funding later on the year.

Notes to editors

Full details of the four projects receiving funding can be found on the BBSRC website. 

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500 million (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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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.