1 Feb 2008

Advances in crop science can contribute to global food security and mitigate the risks associated with climate change. Today (21 February 2008) NIAB announced major new funding for research on rice genetics that will lead to the creation of climate resistant strains of rice for Africa and Asia.

It was one of 12 new research projects launched by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) at Westminster as part of their joint initiative, Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID).

NIAB has been awarded a total of £733,000 for their three year rice research project. It will be led by NIAB in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines.

Prof Wayne Powell, CEO of the Cambridge-based plant research organisation, said:

“This is the most wonderful time to be a crop scientist. The opportunity to exploit our cutting edge science for developing world agriculture is very exciting and will help deliver solutions to the major challenges facing society.”

Rice is the staple food for over two billion people, but lack of water and disease limit its production across the developing world. There is an urgent need for new breeds of rice that can cope with changing climatic conditions and to improve food security across the developing world.

Researchers at NIAB will work collaboratively with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. They will look at the genetic make up of rice as well as its genetic expression to identify genes which may be crucial in developing new types of rice resilient to climate change and diseases.

The inherited make-up of rice is well understood, but using their SARID grant, the researchers will use new techniques, usually used in human and animal studies, to look at gene expression in rice in response to different conditions. By doing this they hope to identify genes which are naturally tolerant to climate extremes and diseases and go onto use this knowledge to develop rice breeding programmes in Africa and Asia.

Welcoming the new research, Ian Pearson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said:

"This is a true demonstration of how scientific research can help find solutions to the major challenges facing the world and improve the quality of life for millions in developing countries."

BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, Steve Visscher, said:

"Bioscience research can make a vital contribution to improving sustainable agriculture across the globe. These projects will build on the world-leading research on fundamental plant science and plant disease in the UK and apply this to crops of importance in the developing world, increasing yields and helping to alleviate the suffering of millions living in poverty."

About BBSRC. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

About DIFID. The Department for International Development is leading the British Government's fight against world poverty. DFID has allocated £200m over five years to fund its Strategy for Research on Sustainable Agriculture which was launched in March 2006. Support to SARID falls under this strategy.

Further information is available from Dr Tina Barsby at NIAB.