Trait characterisation in crops

Photograph of growing-tubes in SCRI glasshousesCrop productivity has increased dramatically in recent decades through a combination of improved arable management and breeding of higher yielding crop genotypes.

Further increases in productivity are needed to cope with growing demands for food. The price, availability and high energy costs (carbon footprint) of inorganic fertiliser mean that food production will need to be achieved with fewer chemical inputs and with greater emphasis on a sustainable approach to arable cropping. 

New crop genotypes that require less chemical fertiliser and pesticide for a given level of yield could be developed by characterising plant traits associated with reduced nutrient requirements and high pest tolerance.

Contact: Alison Karley

Traits for nutrient use efficiency

Photograph of growing-tubes in SCRI glasshousesUsing barley as a model, we are characterising traits associated with improved crop performance under reduced herbicide and nitrogen applications. Initially, we carry out genotype screens under controlled glasshouse conditions, followed by testing traits of interest in small-scale field plots. By focussing on traits, rather than genotypes, we aim to provide information on plant properties that could be sourced from alternative genetic pools for new crop improvement programmes.

Our study of the response of barley genotypes to reduced nitrogen inputs has combined traditional plant physiology approaches with new technological capacity at SCRI to quantify a range of plant nutrients We are focussing on a number of traits involved in the efficient uptake, allocation and remobilisation of nitrogen, and with Tracy Valentine in Plant-Soil Interactions (PSI) we are developing molecular approaches to understand the genetic control of these traits. Collaboration with Ron Wheatley, also in PSI, and with the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), is enabling us to explore the link between nitrogen uptake and nitrogen metabolism by soil microbial communities in field studies of nitrogen use efficiency.

Crop-weed interactions

Photograph of a field plot experiment comparing barley varietiesCrop-weed interactions are being explored to examine plant traits that enable crops to tolerate or compete effectively with weeds for light energy and nutrients. Genotype screens have identified architectural traits that might facilitate crop-weed co-existence and hence support the in-field, invertebrate food web that relies on there being a low abundance of broadleaf weeds within the crop. The ability of genotypes with these traits to maintain yield and nutrient uptake in the absence of herbicide applications is currently being tested in field plots in collaboration with SAC.

These are new topics of research in the Agroecology group at SCRI. Funding is from the Scottish Government.

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Trait characterisation is part of the Sustainable Crop Systems work package funded by the Scottish Government. Findings are used in crop models to predict yield in relation to soil and climate and to target the selection of environmentally beneficial traits for inclusion in future crop varieties.

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