Crop Science Centre - Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Ji Zhou

Ji Zhou


 Dr Ji Zhou leads NIAB’s Data Sciences Department since early 2020. His department focuses on developing multi-scale indoor and in-field plant phenotyping through satellite, Agri-Drones, LiDAR, self-developed low-cost remote sensing, Videometer and Opera HCS system.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Thiago Alexandre Moraes

Thiago Alexandre Moraes


Thiago is an early career scientist who trained as a technologist in environmental sanitation. This training gave him a strong background in ecology and toxicology as well as in mathematics and programming. He carried out his PhD and a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plants Physiology in Potsdam and secured an expertise in experimental and genetic manipulation of plants and precise quantification of metabolite levels and transcript abundance.

Publications

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

The first Crop Science Centre trial harvest

The first Crop Science Centre trial harvest

News
Tom and Sue at the harvest

This August will see the first trial harvest at the Crop Science Centre. Writing ahead of this harvest, Crop Science Centre Scientist, and harvest co-ordinator, Tom Thirkell said:

Tom Thirkell at the harvestWe are excited to have planted our first ENSA field trial here at the Crop Science Centre, a collaboration between NIAB and the University of Cambridge. In this trial, we are testing the effect of mycorrhizal fungi inoculants on the performance of four cultivars of spring malting barley - LG Diablo, RGT Planet, Laureate and Golden Promise. We will soon harvest the trial and assess the impact of the mycorrhizas on crop yield and grain nutrient contents.

Most of our crop plants in the UK already grow in symbiosis with naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi, but many practices in modern agriculture such as tillage and fertiliser application can harm the formation and function of these interactions. As a result, the benefit received by the plants from mycorrhizas can be low or even zero. In this barley trial, we are taking the first steps to investigate how mycorrhizas form in the field, and how we might develop new crops which establish strong, positive interactions with mycorrhizal fungi.”

At the Crop Science Centre, we are searching for innovative ways to improve the sustainability of farming systems globally. Efficient nutrient uptake by crops is still a major challenge across the world, and sustainably improving crop nutrition is a major focus of our work. In higher-income countries, the over-use of fertilisers often causes environmental damage, while in lower-income countries, crop yields are limited because fertilisers are unaffordable or unavailable to many farmers. It is increasingly clear that to achieve global food security, future crops must be less reliant on synthetic fertilisers.

Blog Update, The day of the harvest - September 9 2020

Tom and Sue watching the mini combine harvest the trial Barley crops

The trial barley crops have now been successfully harvested from Park Farm by a team from NIAB, including Sue Mann (photographed above)One plot on the field trial. The trial had four cultivars of barley, and each of these either had a mycorrhizal inoculum added when the seeds were sown, or they were sown without the inoculum, so there were eight treatment groups. Each of these groups was then replicated six times, so there were 48 trials plots in total. The plots were 2m wide x 9m long  (as can be seen on the photo to the right).

Writing shortly after the harvest was complete, Tom Thirkell said:

"After a damp start the sky cleared, and some afternoon sun dried the trial enough for the harvester to go out. I am really pleased with the way the harvest went, and the trial in general - NIAB have been great to work with on this project. I am looking forward to working through the data from our first field trial at the Crop Science Centre and seeing what effects the mycorrhizal inoculation had on these barley cultivars. As well as getting yield data from these plots, we are sending samples for further analysis which will give us details on the nutritional and malting quality of our barley crop."

 

Blog Update, Post-harvest field trial analysis- February 2022

Analysis of the Crop Science Centre’s first field trials has provided confidence in the use of the barley cultivar Golden Promise for future field trials, as well as the presence of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil at Park Farm trial site. These findings are significant since our upcoming field trials will be investigating the impact of AM fungi on GM Golden Promise at Park Farm.

Field trials co-ordinator, Tom Thirkell, said “The Golden Promise barley cultivar is the background genotype of our genetic work so we were especially interested in testing its establishment and growth performance.

We found that, despite being around half a century older than the other barley cultivars we tested, Golden Promise established and yielded well in the field trial.”

The post-harvest analysis also revealed that barley grain yield was unaffected by mycorrhizal fungal inoculation, as was the nutritional content.

Roots from all trial plots showed mycorrhizal fungal colonisation, suggesting a significant quantity of mycorrhizal fungal propagules in the soil at the Park Farm trials site. Fungal DNA sequencing and community analysis will show the identities of the fungal species that colonized the barley roots, and how this differs among cultivars and with inoculation treatments.

Tom continued “From this trial, we can’t tell if the plants benefit from the fungi because there are fungi in the soil already, so even in the plots that received no fungi inoculum, the plants still got colonised. This is where the next set of barley field trials will be really informative, because we'll have barley that can’t form mycorrhizal fungi associations. When we compare barley with a symbiotic relationship with fungi to those without, this will show us what impact, if any, the mycorrhizas fungi are having." 

Crop Science Centre

Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

Raphaella Hull

Raphaella Hull


Raphaella researches the function and evolution of plant signalling in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis.

 

Publications

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


Natasha studies plant meiosis – a specialized cell division during sexual reproduction that results in gametes (egg and sperm) with half the genetic material of mother cells. Meiosis is unique because during meiosis parental chromosomes physically exchange parts, or recombine. This leads to new trait combinations in offspring and this genetic variation is the basis for selective crop breeding.

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, UK. Lida is currently head of the Crop Pathogen Immunity group at the Crop Science Centre.

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.”

 

 

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