UK Scientist to Lead EU Research Network to Tackle Plant Nutrition

5th Apr 2011

Dr Stanislav Kopriva of the John Innes Centre is to lead a network of European researchers who will work out what controls plant nutrition, a topic of growing importance for ensuring food security. Central to this €2.5 million 4 year project will be the training of the next generation of research leaders in this field.

The challenge of maintaining food security, against a growing world population, increasing energy prices and the impact of climate change on agricultural production has produced a need for crop varieties that produce higher yields with lower inputs and reduced environmental impact. Achieving this will need major advances in our understanding of how crop plants use available nutrients. A major new European research initiative will take steps to understand this, and equip a new generation of scientists with the skills and knowledge to deliver crop plants with optimised yields without increasing inputs.

The Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) “Biochemical and Genetic Dissection of Control of Plant Nutrition” brings together eight of Europe’s top plant research institutes. Each institute will host one PhD student, and the studentships will be linked to ensure that a fully integrated approach is taken to get the whole picture of plant nutrition. This integration is a key feature of the network, as it advances the science beyond focussing on one mineral nutrient, such as nitrogen or sulphur, to look at the combined nutritional needs of the plant. Towards the end of the project the results will be brought together to produce the most complete mathematical model of plant nutrition to date.

Dr Stan Kopriva’s own research group at the John Innes Centre is looking into understanding the molecular basis of nutrient use efficiency and control of nutrient uptake and assimilation, in particular in the assimilation of sulphate.

“I am looking forward to being able to combine our own research with colleagues around Europe, to help piece together the jigsaw of plant nutrition” said Dr Kopriva.

This integrated approach will draw on the complimentary skills and specialties of the research groups, many of whom are world leaders in their field. Geneticists will screen for undiscovered genes involved in controlling plant nutrition, and systems biologists, biochemists and plant physiologists will combine to work out the functions of these genes. Other partners will focus on the translation of this research into crop plants in the field, ensuring the pipeline from the laboratory to the field is fully covered by this project. Cropdesign N.V. is a plant biotechnology company based in Belgium and is a full partner in the project, ensuring there is a strong link between the researchers and plant breeders and other end users.

The Marie Curie International Training Network ensures that equipping the scientists with the scientific and technical skills is central to this project. Through workshops, courses, conferences and exchanges between the participating groups, the students will receive cross-disciplinary training, from gene discovery in the lab through to field trials of crops at Rothamsted Research, another partner in the network. The experience and training in the leading plant nutrition research groups will leave the young researchers uniquely positioned to become world leaders in this strategic field.

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