Crop Science Centre - Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Jeongmin Choi

Jeongmin Choi


Jeongmin received her undergrad and master’s degrees at Seoul National University in South Korea where she studied soybean genomics. She then moved to the University of Missouri in the US for her PhD and identified the first plant receptor recognizing extracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as a danger signal.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Natasha Yelina

Natasha Yelina


Prior to joining the Crop Science Centre Natasha worked on the fundamental aspects of plant meiotic recombination, genetics, epigenetics and plant pathology at the Department of Plant Sciences within the University of Cambridge, the Sainsbury laboratory in Norwich and Moscow State University in Russia.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Lida Derevnina

Lida Derevnina


Lida received her PhD in plant breeding and plant pathology at the University of Sydney, Australia, where she identified and characterized rust resistance genes in cultivated barley. After completing her PhD, she joined the University of California, Davis, USA, as a postdoctoral researcher working in comparative genomics of downy mildews. Following this, Lida was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie independent fellowship to undertake research at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker


Sebastian received his Ph. D. in plant pathology from the University of Leeds and the James Hutton Institute in 2014. Sebastian was then awarded an Anniversary Future Leaders Fellowship from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to pursue independent research at the University of Dundee and the John Innes Centre (2015-2018). In 2018, he was awarded a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship and established the Plant-Parasite Interactions group at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge.

Publications

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

New Royal Society Fellow joins the Crop Science Centre

New Royal Society Fellow joins the Crop Science Centre

News
Jeongmin Choi

On August 12 the Crop Science Centre welcomed the start of Royal Society Fellow, Jeongmin Choi. Alongside the three Crop Science Centre research fellows, Jeongmin will expand the research capability of the centre by setting up a new research group. 

Jeongmin Choi the Plant Nutrition and Signalling Group

About Jeongmin

Jeongmin received her undergrad and master’s degrees at Seoul National University in South Korea where she studied soybean genomics. She then moved to the University of Missouri in the US for her PhD and identified the first plant receptor recognizing extracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as a danger signal. Her interest in crop improvement led her to join Uta Paszkowski’s laboratory at the University of Cambridge as an EMBO long-term fellow and then a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow to understand signaling event between plant and arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis at a molecular level.

Jeongmin joined the Crop Science Centre as a Royal Society University Research Fellow and said of the appointment “I am very excited to start my first research group at the Crop Science Centre. The stimulative and collegial research environment motivates me, and I am confident that together we can create a positive impact on food production fuelled by innovative research.” 

Describe your new research group:

“My group will aim to understand the role of nutrient signalling in AM symbiosis. This is important since it has the potential to create innovative agricultural practices through a new fertilization strategy that will ensure food security while simultaneously benefiting the environment.”

What problems will this group aim to solve and why are they significant?

Phosphorus is one of the macroelements dictating plant growth, development, and health. Current agricultural productivity is heavily driven by the application of phosphorus fertilizer. However, excess fertilizer pollutes the environment, and phosphorus reservoirs are expected to be depleted soon. By contrast, in nature, 80% of land plants obtain minerals through a mutually beneficial relationship with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The fungal filaments function as extended roots to forage phosphate in exchange for carbon fixed by photosynthesis. Thus, improving phosphate uptake in crops by using AM symbiosis can offer a solution to our unsustainable dependency on fertilizers. 

What are the big challenges in this area of research?

“Applying AM symbiosis to current agricultural practices is challenging as AM symbiosis is inhibited under high phosphate conditions, including common fertilizer regimes. Therefore, my research group aims to unravel how phosphorus sensing and signalling mechanisms regulate AM symbiosis in rice.”

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Three new fellows join the Crop Science Centre

Three new fellows join the Crop Science Centre

News
The four new fellows

On August 12 the Crop Science Centre welcomed the start of three new Crop Science Centre research fellows, each of whom will set up a new research group at the centre.

Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science and Director of the Crop Science Centre, Professor Giles Oldroyd said “It is exciting to have the opportunity to support these young scientists develop their careers, as well as to encourage them to work in crop science.

Importantly, these new appointments will massively expand the research focus and capability of the Crop Science Centre.”

Below, each of the new fellows introduces themselves and the area of research they will focus on whilst at the Crop Science Centre.

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker – the plant-parasite Interactions group

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker About Sebastian

Sebastian received his Ph. D. in plant pathology from the University of Leeds and the James Hutton Institute in 2014. Sebastian was then awarded an Anniversary Future Leaders Fellowship from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to pursue independent research at the University of Dundee and the John Innes Centre (2015-2018). In 2018, he was awarded a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship and established the Plant-Parasite Interactions group at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge.

On starting his research fellowship, Sebastian said: “The Crop Science Centre was a key driver in the decision to start my group in Cambridge because I have seen and appreciate the benefits of this kind of collaboration from my previous joint appointments. Three years after joining, the inaugural faculty of the Crop Science Centre is ready and I am thrilled to vindicate that decision by formally joining the initiative.”

Describe your new research group:

“The group is proudly international, diverse, and welcoming. We are always open to sharing ideas and resources to address interesting and/or important questions.”

What problems will this group aim to solve and why are they significant?

“Our overarching theme is to combine genomics and molecular biology to understand fundamental questions in host parasite biology. We primarily focus on plant-parasitic nematodes partly because they are a global threat to food security, and partly because underlying this threat is a wealth of fascinating biology that until very recently has been largely unexplorable.”

What are the big challenges in this area of research?

“Plant-parasitic nematodes are extremely tricky organisms to work with. A strand of research in the group is therefore aimed at not just making progress itself but building the tools to speed up the rate of progress. Addressing food insecurity is a long-term goal. As with any long-term goal, it’s prudent to increase the rate of progress as early as possible.” 

 Natasha Elina - The breeding technology group

Natasha Elina About Natasha

Prior to joining the Crop Science Centre Natasha worked on the fundamental aspects of plant meiotic recombination, genetics, epigenetics and plant pathology at the Department of Plant Sciences within the University of Cambridge, the Sainsbury laboratory in Norwich and Moscow State University in Russia.

Upon joining the Crop Science Research Centre, Natasha said “I am passionate about translating this fundamental knowledge into crops. I am very excited to start my new group at the Crop Science Centre and work in alliance with NIAB and plant scientists across the University of Cambridge. I feel honoured to be able to work in such a unique place where together we can put science into practice and make a difference to the future of agriculture.”

Describe your new research group:

“With a focus on legume crops, my group will aim to develop novel breeding technologies to generate new crop cultivars adapted to changing climate conditions, and with robust high yields when farmed sustainably.

Legumes are economically and agronomically important crops in the UK and worldwide due to their nutrient content. They are also import for sustainable agriculture due to symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and their utility in intercropping and crop rotations with cereals.”

What problems will this group aim to solve and why are they significant?

“My group will work on meiotic recombination. This is a process occurring during plant reproduction through seeds where characteristics from both parents are brought together and re-assorted before being passed on to offspring. This re-assortment results in new qualities in crops, such as yield, nutrient content, resilience to pests and adaptation to abiotic stresses. This is the basis of selective breeding.”

What are the big challenges in this area of research?

“The current challenges for researchers and crop breeders lie within the limitations of meiotic recombination. Not all characteristics are equally amenable to meiotic re-assortment, which leaves up to a fifth of the genetic material unavailable for breeding.”

Lida Derevnina - the crop pathogen immunity research group

Lida Derevnina About Lida

Lida received her PhD in plant breeding and plant pathology at the University of Sydney, Australia, where she identified and characterized rust resistance genes in cultivated barley. After completing her PhD, she joined the University of California, Davis, USA, as a postdoctoral researcher working in comparative genomics of downy mildews. Following this, Lida was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie independent fellowship to undertake research at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich. At TSL, Lida worked towards understanding the molecular mechanisms pathogens use to perturb resistance mediated by plant intracellular immune receptor networks.  Her ultimate goal is to utilize our understanding of host-pathogen interactions to generate disease resistant crops.

Lida will be joining the Crop Science Centre as a research fellow at the beginning of 2022 and said: “I feel deeply honoured to be joining the Crop Science Centre as a research fellow. CSC is an exciting collaboration between the University of Cambridge and NIAB, which will undoubtably produce impactful and cutting-edge research in the crop sciences. Being a part of the establishment of a new institute, especially one of this calibre, is a great privilege, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve global food security, particularly in the developing world.”

Describe your new research group:

My group will use a combination of genomics, in planta assays and molecular approaches to study the complex mechanisms underpinning plant immune responses, as well as the strategies pathogens deployed to circumvent them. We will initially focus on the interaction between potatoes and parasitic nematodes, but we are also interested in other Solanaceous crops and their respective pathogens.

What problems will this group aim to solve and why are they significant?

“Plant immunity is comprised of complex networks that mediate responses to diverse pathogens. Pathogens secrete molecules, called effectors, that can target and disable critical components of these networks, allowing them to circumvent plant immune responses. My group will utilize our mechanistic understanding of plant immune networks and effector functions to develop novel network components that evade effector suppression. This will help us generate disease resistant crops and alleviate the challenges pathogens present for global food production. “

What are the big challenges in this area of research?

“Plant pathogens are ever-evolving threats to agriculture. They are highly adaptable and can quickly overcome newly deployed sources of host resistance, rendering these genes obsolete. As a result, there is a constant need to identify new sources of resistance in breeding programs. Gaining a deeper understanding of host-pathogen interactions will allow us to make targeted interventions when generating disease resistant crops. Using an informed approach should prove to be a more efficient means of breeding, helping us stay ahead in the ongoing arms race between plants and pathogens.”

 

 

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

AM fungi as art

AM fungi as art

News
Symbiotic fungus

Methods for using art to engage the public in AM fungi have been described by Crop Science Centre scientists, Uta Paszkowski and Jennifer McGaley in the Journal Plants, People and People.

The authors stress the importance of high-quality visuals in public engagement, as well as the wealth of visual data collected during regular biological investigation, including photographs, micrographs, models and illustrations.

To read more click here to read the full paper.

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Rice receptor conditions plants for symbiosis with beneficial Fungi

Rice receptor conditions plants for symbiosis with beneficial Fungi

News
Root arbuscules

A recent review from the Crop Science Centre discusses the establishment of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis from the perspective of the rice receptor DWARF14-LIKE (D14L).

Published in July of 2021 in the journal Current Opinion in Plant Biology as part of a themed issue on biotic interactions, the review proposes that D14L signalling modulates the physiological condition of the plant to create a permissive state for AM symbiosis, underpinning attraction and enabling accommodation of the symbiotic fungus.

AM symbiosis is a plant-fungal mutualism that arose approximately 450 million years ago in early land plants. In this relationship plants can derive up to 100% of their phosphorus needs and around 40% of their nitrogen needs from AM fungi. In fact, it is thought that AM symbiosis is the default plant nutrient uptake strategy and so is central to plant performance and ecosystem productivity.

Raphaella Hull, plant scientist at the Crop Science Centre, said “The receptor D14L is essential for the perception of AM fungi by rice plants. In this work, we discuss how D14L integrates hormonal signals to prepare plants for AM symbiosis. We highlight research showing that D14L regulates the biosynthesis and exudation of the plant hormone strigolactone, the best known and potent attractant for AM fungi, via degradation of the repressor SMAX1. In addition, we draw attention to data that suggests that D14L signalling also has a role in regulating the biosynthesis of gibberellic acid. Altogether, our current understanding of D14L signalling leads us to propose that D14L is a central regulator of symbiotic competency, whilst further research is required to elucidate the downstream signalling pathway of SMAX1 and the evolutionary conservation of D14L function.”

Read more by clicking here to read the review paper.

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Bringing a SPARK into the ancient relationship between plants and symbiotic fungi

Bringing a SPARK into the ancient relationship between plants and symbiotic fungi

News
A rice root colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

New research from the Crop Science Centre provides insights into the ancient signalling pathways facilitating the arbuscular mycorrhizal association, which is the most prevalent symbiosis in plants.

The mycorrhizal fungi help plants to capture nutrients from the soil and by shedding light on elements of the pathway used by plants to interact with these fungi, this research could help develop genetic strategies to enhance crop performance.

Published on June 15 in the journal PNAS, this study characterizes a symbiotic gene in rice called arbuscular receptor-like kinase 2 (ARK 2), as well as unveiling an ancient protein domain that defines a new class of signalling proteins.

In the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis nutrient exchange occurs in tree-shaped structures formed inside root cells called arbuscules. Several plant proteins are known to function in cells hosting arbuscules, mostly nutrient transporters.

A previous study from the Cereal Symbiosis laboratory, at the University of Cambridge, characterized arbuscular receptor-like kinase 1 (ARK1), which is the first known receptor-like kinase to regulate the symbiosis in arbusculated cells. Receptor-like kinases are cell-surface signalling proteins that normally have two modules: an extracellular domain, which perceives external signals and an intracellular kinase domain that initiates a cellular response.

In this new study, the authors performed a phylogenetic analysis to gain new insights into the evolutionary history of the receptor-like kinase subfamily that ARK1 belongs to. This revealed that a single gene called ARK duplicated early in the evolution of seed plants. This duplication generated ARK1 and ARK2. The authors functionally characterized ARK2 in rice using mutant lines.  Plants with ARK2 mutated had reduced levels of arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization, demonstrating ARK2 to have a symbiotic function. Global analyses of gene expression further showed that a set of genes is co-regulated by ARK1 and ARK2, suggesting the two receptor-like kinases regulate the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in a novel signalling pathway.

Surprisingly, while analysing the sequences of the extracellular domains in this subfamily, the authors discovered a new protein domain. The domain, named SPARK, has a unique arrangement of cysteines, an amino acid that is often found to stabilize protein domains by forming sulphur bonds. The domain has no resemblance at the sequence level with other known protein domains. The presence of the SPARK domain in receptor-like kinases of a species of algae revealed it to be an ancient protein domain.

The lead author, Hector Montero, said: “The discoveries within this research kick-start the study of a new class of signalling proteins that had been overlooked and we believe these findings will draw attention from those interested not only in mycorrhizal functioning but also in the evolution of receptor-like kinases. It will be important for future studies to explore the details of the signalling pathway orchestrated by the receptors and the function of the SPARK domain.”

This research was performed by Hector Montero and co-authors from the Cereal Symbiosis Laboratory in the Crop Science Centre, which is an alliance between the University of Cambridge and NIAB.

Reference:

Hector Montero, Tak Lee, Boas Pucker, Gabriel Ferreras, Giles Oldroyd, Samuel Brockington, Akio Miyao, Uta Paszkowski. 2021. A mycorrhiza-associated receptor-like kinase with an ancient origin in the green lineage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences https://www.pnas.org/content/118/25/e2105281118

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