Slice of research funding allows Warwick to tackle £11m loss to British onion farmers

12th Aug 2013

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been awarded more than £500,000 to study a fungus which attacks onions, costing UK farmers £11 million a year in losses.

The funding, awarded by the research body BBSRC and the Scottish Government, is part of a package of £3 million awarded nationally to improve food security for some of the world’s most valuable crops.

The project is among the first round of awards from BBSRC’s Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) which supports high-quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops.

HAPI brings academic researchers together with industry in order to deliver bigger yields of better quality fruits and vegetables for the consumer through more sustainable farming practices.

Dr John Clarkson will lead a team based at Warwick Crop Centre, part of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, working with East Malling Research and industry partner Nickerson-Zwaan on the project which is also supported by the Horticultural Development Company..

Fusarium oxysporum is a fungus which attacks many plants including onion, the world’s second most valuable vegetable crop.

Using previously identified onion lines with increased F. oxysporum resistance, this work will provide information, tools and resources which will lead to more effective and sustainable control.

Dr Clarkson said: “There are many particular strains of this fungus and it affects many different crops.

“The strain that infects onion causes root disease as well as basal rot, which affects the bulb. This can mean big losses both in the field and in storage once the onions are harvested.

“This fungus is having an increasing impact in the UK as we are having warmer and wetter summers which promote the disease.

“At the moment there are no effective control measures, which is why it is vital to study it in more detail and also the genetic traits which govern resistance to the fungus in onions.”

The Genetic Resources Unit at the University of Warwick’s site at Wellesbourne is home to a collection of seeds from many different types of onion. The researchers have already screened an onion diversity set derived from these lines to find onions which have more resistance to the fungus compared to commercial cultivars.

The current project will identify the genetic basis for the resistance, so that it can be transferred into commercial varieties using a technique known as marker-assisted breeding.

Working with East Malling Research, the Warwick Crop Centre researchers will also analyse the genetic make-up of the fungus to understand how it affects onions.

 

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