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Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development

Improving the sustainability of vital food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia


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.

NIAB is involved in four of the 11 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
    UK collaborator: NIAB
    Overseas collaborators: University of Free State and CenGen Pty, South Africa, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute-Njoro, Kenya and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico
  • 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);
    UK collaborator: NIAB
    Overseas collaborators: NCRRI and International Centre of Tropical Agriculture, Uganda
  • 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;
    UK collaborators: John Innes Centre, NIAB, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the University of East Anglia
    Overseas collaborators: Aarhus University, Denmark, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Ethiopia, Kenyan Agricultural University, Kenya, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Punjab Agricultural University, India
  • 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
    UK collaborators: NIAB and University of Cambridge
    Overseas collaborators: IRRI, Philippines, AfricanRice, Tanzania and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India


As part of a SCPRID project "Wild rice MAGIC”, NIAB, Cambridge, UK, and the Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University are offering a PhD Studentship working on multi-founder mapping populations in wheat and rice, commencing 1 January 2015.

This fully funded three year scholarship includes a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£13,863 per annum for 2014/15). The successful applicant must be a resident of a developing country.

Project description

Multiparent populations such as Nested Association Mapping (NAM) panels and the Multiparent Advanced Generation Intercross (MAGIC) are used increasingly in trait mapping in crops. The availability of high densities of genetic markers means that these diverse populations can map more QTL for more traits to smaller genetic intervals than is routinely possible with bi-parental crosses. Such populations can also be used as source material for the initiation of selection programmes. This project will study practical and theoretical aspects of NAM and MAGIC for both purposes in rice and wheat.

In collaboration with the Department of Plant Sciences, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines is developing MAGIC populations from crosses between domesticated and wild rice. We wish to study methods for the exploitation of these populations. This will include their use for genome-enhanced recurrent selection schemes, including genomic selection, and the development of backcrossing strategies. Study will be based primarily on computer simulation, validated by experimental data as these become available. There will also be opportunities for the student to visit IRRI to familiarise themselves with rice breeding and the development of the populations.

NIAB has an active pre-breeding programme which compliments activities at IRRI. It has developed a NAM panel from backcrosses of synthetic wheat lines to two adapted UK lines. These can be used to map trait loci across the genome, but in particular to identify favourable alleles at novel loci in the D genome. NIAB has also created MAGIC populations in wheat from which data are available. There is also scope within this project for practical work in genotyping, phenotyping and developing methods for analysis using these resources.

The student will be based at NIAB and registered for a PhD in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, with full access to university facilities and resources. Supervision will be jointly by Dr Alison Bentley and Dr Ian Mackay at NIAB and Dr Julian Hibberd in the Department of Plant Sciences.

The successful applicant will be asked to make an online application to Cambridge University (GRADSAF) and will need to meet all University conditions, including proven proficiency in English. Guidance will be given on applying for a Tier 4 visa.

For further information, please contact Ian Mackay at