The European Research Council (ERC) has announced a €1.5m starting grant to investigate the immune systems of important crops.
The project, which will last five years, is led by Dr Ksenia Krasileva of the Earlham Institute (EI) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL).
Research into plants’ immune systems could create new genetic solutions for protecting plant health and future sustainable crop production.
Fungal diseases and virulent plant pathogens endanger the global production of food crops, reducing yields. They can be fought with fungicides and pesticides, but these substances are not always safe for humans and the environment.
Krasileva said: “We propose to combine powerful next generation sequencing and bioinformatics methods, as well as molecular biology techniques, in order to unravel how the grasses can keep up with ever-persistent diseases, and eventually generate new ways in which our most vital crops can withstand them.
“Through firstly identifying how plant disease receptors have diversified within the genomes of the grasses, to then unravelling the mechanisms by which they work, we can then use this knowledge and apply engineering to plant breeding in order to keep our fields healthy and stave off the tide of disease-causing pests that ravage our crop yields and threaten global food security.”
Krasileva has already studied the repertoire of disease receptors across 40 types of flowering plant.
Dr Diane Saunders, Fellow of EI and JIC, will also receive funding from the ERC over the next five years to investigate the molecular mechanisms driving host adaptation of yellow rust on cereal crops and grasses.
The EI is strategically funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and operates a national capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.