Crop Science Centre - Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Deven Rubens

Deven Rubens


I am finishing my master degree in Belgium by doing a four month internship at the CSC. My master degree is about Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. For my master thesis, I worked on SARS-CoV-2 virus and the impact of antiviral compounds on the infection by performing infectivity assays and protein-protein interaction assays.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Edelmira Bell

Edelmira Bell


I am the HR Coordinator, with 10 years’ experience in managing the entire employee cycle at a fast-paced environment in education, international pharmaceutical laboratories and the manufacturing industries.

I am passionate about the changing nature of work and although sometimes situations are hard, I absolutely love what I do as my job is immensely rewarding. No day is ever the same in HR and I strive for fair selection and development of our diverse workforce within a stable work environment with equal opportunities for learning and personal growth.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Cambridge-led consortium receives $35m to boost crop production sustainably in sub-Saharan Africa

Cambridge-led consortium receives $35m to boost crop production sustainably in sub-Saharan Africa

News
Nodules on roots

A Cambridge-led consortium has received US$35m (£28m) over five years to develop sustainable solutions to increasing the yields of small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, without the need for costly and polluting inorganic fertilisers.

The grant, from Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations (Gates Ag One), will enable researchers led by the University of Cambridge Crop Science Centre to engineer plants to take advantage of naturally occurring interactions with micro-organisms – fungi and bacteria – that help in the uptake of nutrients from the soil and air.

“African agriculture is at an inflection point, with vastly increasing demand at a time when supply is at risk, especially due to a changing climate,” said Giles Oldroyd, Director of the Crop Science Centre and Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science.

“The outcomes of this work have the potential to see gains as great as those from the Green Revolution, but without relying on costly and polluting inorganic fertilisers.

“Increasing sustainable production of crops in small-holder farming systems, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, directly addresses some of the worst poverty on the planet.”

Nutrients are vital to the success of crops. However, the land of small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is depleted of nutrients. Artificial fertilisers are too expensive for small-scale farmers to buy, and their livestock numbers too low to produce sufficient levels of manure to nourish their crops. This leads to deceasing yields overtime, which affects livelihoods. Average maize productivity in sub-Saharan Africa is less than a quarter of that in the USA.

The Engineering the Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) research programme utilises natural symbioses between plants, soil fungi and bacteria, that deliver nutrients to the plant. By leveraging these relationships ENSA aims to engineer crops to make better use of nutrients already present in the air and the soil. This would allow sustainable increases in crop yields, potentially revolutionising smallholder farming in low-and-middle-income-countries, while providing a viable solution to sustainable and secure food production in high-income countries.

The grant funds the Engineering the Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) research programme. ENSA is a Cambridge-led international collaboration with partners: University of Oxford, UK; NIAB, UK; Royal Holloway University of London, UK; Aarhus University, Denmark; Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands; University of Freiburg, Germany; University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier, France; University of Illinois, USA; Pennsylvania State University, USA.

A not-for-profit subsidiary of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates Ag One was created to leverage global crop science to meet the needs of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It focuses on accelerating research that enhances the biological processes of six priority food crops: cassava, cowpea, maize, rice, sorghum, and soybean.

“The pioneering work of ENSA is fundamental to levelling the playing field for smallholder farmers in Africa, leveraging the latest crop technology to ensure all communities have the chance to thrive,” said Joe Cornelius, CEO of Gates Ag One. “Breakthrough advances in crop science and innovation mean intractable challenges like nutrient uptake and soil health need not hold back agricultural development. We’re delighted that Gates Ag One can support ENSA to continue its work to meet the needs of smallholder farmers.”

 

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Tim Walpole

Tim Walpole


IT Manager for Plant Sciences.  Previously worked at Faculty of HSPS, West Suffolk Hospital and the Open University.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Jen de Tisi

Jen de Tisi


I provide Executive Assistant support to Professor Giles Oldroyd. I have a BA (Hons) Degree in Media Writing and previously worked in the corporate industry, providing Administrative and Project support for over a decade, to various Senior Executives and Professionals.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Mysterious parasite: How plants develop parasitic organs

Mysterious parasite: How plants develop parasitic organs

News
A Dodder flower on a tomato plant

A research review by a Crop Science Centre scientist and a UC Davis scientist has summarised our current understanding of how the stem parasitic plants Cuscuta species, known as dodders, develop the specialised organs, called haustoria, which confer the ability to acquire water and nutrients from their host plants.

Lead author, Dr Min-Yao Jhu at the Crop Science Centre, said, “This review not only reveals the fascinating mystery of how plants evolved parasitism, but also provides the foundation for developing more effective methods to control the agricultural damage caused by parasitic plants.” 

Parasitic plants are notorious for causing billions of USD worth of agricultural losses globally each year. Progress has been made recently in understanding the evolution and development of haustoria in root parasitic plants. Yet, increasing studies indicate that behaviours of haustorium formation between root and stem parasites are distinct, and the formation mechanisms of these organs in stem parasitic plants remain largely unknown.

Interestingly, although most root parasitic plants can avoid attacking themselves or closely related species, this does not appear to be the case with dodders.

This review also outlines the advantages of using dodders as model organisms for studying haustorium development in stem holoparasitic plants, the mysteries and limitations in the dodder system, and potential future research directions to overcome these challenges.

Frontiers | Cuscuta species: Model organisms for haustorium development in stem holoparasitic plants (frontiersin.org)

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Beneficial fungi induce lateral root development via a generic mechanism

Beneficial fungi induce lateral root development via a generic mechanism

News
Rice

Research by Crop Science Centre scientists’ sheds light on the relationship between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and lateral root development in angiosperms.

Professor Uta Paszkowski, an author of this research, said “This is a significant clarification of the molecular mechanisms triggering cell division, thereby underpinning crop root system architectural plasticity in the ecosystem. This forms an important part in our wider ambition to improve the nutrition of crops sustainably.”

Published in the journal Current Biology, this research has four key findings: the initiation of new lateral root primordia, generic chitin as a potent stimulus of lateral root development, conserved MAMP receptors to perceive the chitin signals and the broadly conserved response across diverse angiosperms.

The ability of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to increase lateral root numbers in various plant species has been widely observed. This research reveals that the cause is increased initiation of cell division and lateral root primordia formation.

This enhanced lateral root development was thought to be activated by symbiosis relevant signals, such as LCOs or CO4. However, the authors of this research clarify that lateral root development is generic to diverse chitin-derived molecules. Furthermore, the authors present genetic evidence demonstrating a conserved lateral root developmental response to chitinaceous molecules across phylogenetically distant angiosperms, involving a dedicated set of MAMP receptors.

In a broader ecological and evolutionary context, the exact biological significance of this conserved response requires more investigation. The authors speculate that the detection process of chitinaceous molecules might facilitate the monitoring of the soil biota.

This pre-existing signalling pathway might be an ancestral feature of all plants engaging in nitrogen-fixing symbioses where diazotroph bacteria also employ chitinaceous LCOs to stimulate cell-division leading to nodule formation. This finding is therefore important for potential engineering of nitrogen fixation into cereal crops.

This research forms part of a wider programme to improve the sustainability of equity of global agriculture by reducing the need for inorganic fertilizer. This will be particularly beneficial for small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have access to inorganic fertilisers to increase the yield of their crops.

Read the research in Current Biology by following this link Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi induce lateral root development in angiosperms via a conserved set of MAMP receptors - ScienceDirect

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Esther Rosales Sanchez

Esther Rosales Sanchez


I studied a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Master's Degree in Genetics and Cell Biology in Madrid. My interest in plant science began when I performed my master thesis in legume- bacteria symbiosis at Polytechnique University of Madrid (Spain). After that, I worked as a technician for 3 years at NIAB, trying to understand nitrogen symbiosis in actinorhizal plants.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Discovery of a new mechanism for enhancing symbiotic interactions

Discovery of a new mechanism for enhancing symbiotic interactions

News
Barley

Research published in Nature Communications demonstrates a mechanism to enhance the colonization of cereals by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

These enhanced arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal associations have the potential to improve the efficiency with which crops capture nutrients from the environment, which could reduce the global dependence on inorganic fertilizers.

Professor Oldroyd who led the work said: “This is an important advance in our understanding of how the external environment controls the plants’ willingness to engage with beneficial microorganisms, but also has important ramifications for sustainable crop production. We are currently testing the results of this study in field experiments.”

This research uncovered a means by which plants change their responsiveness to symbiotic microbial partners, depending on whether the plant is starved for nutrients or not. The research shows that this mechanism can be used to enhance the colonisation of cereals by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi through the overexpression of transcription factors that ordinarily activate the engagement with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, when the plant is starved for nutrients and therefore most in need of help from the fungus to capture nutrients from the soil. 

Discovered by researchers at the Crop Science Centre, this mechanism is likely an important engineering target for improving symbiotic nutrient uptake efficiency in agricultural contexts, with important implications for improving the sustainability of crop production.

This research forms part of a wider programme to improve the sustainability of equity of global agriculture by reducing the need for inorganic fertilizer. This will be particularly beneficial for small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have access to inorganic fertilisers to increase the yield of their crops.

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Stéphanie Swarbreck

Stéphanie Swarbreck


Stéphanie is interested in understanding how crops

respond to nutrient availability. Her research aims to provide useful information for the development of crop varieties (especially wheat) that can produce high yield with lower fertiliser inputs. Through collaboration with Ethiopia and India, she has strong interest in millet species (e.g. foxtail millet, pearl millet and finger millet) as well as tef (Eragrostis tef).

Publications

Sustainable food production for everyone

The Crop Science Centre is a coalition between the University of Cambridge, Department of Plant Sciences, and NIAB. This coalition focuses on translational research in crops with real-world impact. We combine the diverse skills and expertise of the University and NIAB, providing an environment for research excellence with the capability to apply discoveries to crop improvement in the field.

Our research is interdisciplinary and of global relevance. We strive to improve both staple crops such as maize, wheat and rice, but also the specific crops of relevance to small-holder farmers, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Centre provides leadership in crop sciences, with a creative and dynamic research culture, motivated by improvement of agriculture for the betterment of society.

Our mission

At the Crop Science Centre, we are generating crop plants that deliver sufficient food for everyone in a sustainable way

  • We deliver agricultural impact, using excellence in research
  • We strive for sustainability, reducing agricultural reliance on chemical inputs
  • We foster equality, valuing all members of our research community
  • We believe in equity, ensuring even the world’s poorest farmers can grow enough food

Years of research has provided a deep understanding of how plants function, creating opportunities to transform the way we produce our food.  I am motivated to improve the sustainability and the equity of food production worldwide

Professor Giles Oldroyd,
CSC Director

Professor Giles Oldroyd

“At the Crop Science Centre we have the scientific breadth and track record to rapidly respond to one of the grand challenges of our time: growing enough nutritious food for an increasing population while reducing inputs and green house emissions.”

Professor Mario Caccamo,
CEO and Director of NIAB

Professor Mario Caccamo

“We envisage that new CSC crop technologies will enable higher crop yields and lower environmental impact for crop-based food production – as well as contributing to improved dietary health.”

Sir David Baulcombe,
Royal Society Professor

Sir David Baulcombe