A new plant development and food security project, linking world-leading institutions and researchers, has won financial backing from the UK and US governments.
The University of Nottingham-led project attracted funding from the Global Innovation Initiative, a new programme to foster multilateral research collaboration with higher education institutions in Brazil, China, India and Indonesia.
New Answers for Old Problems: A Global Interdisciplinary Training Network to Address Key Questions in Plant Development for Food Security was one of 23 winning proposals to address ‘topics of global significance’ and will involve a three-way partnership between The University of Nottingham, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China) and University of Delaware (US).
Other US institutions, including the University of California Riverside and the Carnegie Institute for Science (Stanford University), are also involved in the initiative.
Long-term global challenge
Food security is a long-term major global challenge, particularly with the growth in population and projections that the world will need 50% more food by 2050. Less land available for agriculture and crops, growing demand for biofuels and increasing scarcity of water are just some of the challenges, coupled with the adverse effects of climate change on plant yield.
The University of Nottingham has an established relationship with Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) in this area, initiated by the opening of a Joint Centre for Plant Biotechnology by Lord Sainsbury in 2001. These collaborations have already resulted in high-impact publications and outputs, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Royal Society and Sino-UK British Council.
Both institutions established a Joint PhD scheme in 2012 and will introduce a joint BSc degree in September 2014.
New answers for old problems
The new Global Innovation Initiative partnership will broader activities in the food security area by involving both established and new investigators. PhD researchers and graduate students will participate in exchange visits to the partner institutions to enable them to undertake training in new techniques, focussing on:
- Root architecture
- Male reproduction and crop fertility
- Modification of plant cell walls
Professor Zoe Wilson, Professor of Developmental Plant Biology, is leading the project. She said: “There is no easy solution to these problems; a concerted effort towards increasing yield, enhancing food quality, whilst avoiding environmental damage and other losses is vital.
“However, these traits are complex, with many factors influencing plant growth, yield and overall crop quality and these challenges will be best addressed by interdisciplinary approaches integrating scientific disciplines. Our goal is to train a new generation of interdisciplinary agriculture leaders to address this.”
The training network will start in autumn 2014 with an international meeting of all partner members in Shanghai.
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