Food crop study seeks to address Global Challenges

Posted by ap507 at Aug 21, 2017 10:37 AM |
Project involving University of Leicester, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of Addis Ababa examines the Ethiopian banana

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 August 2017­

Image from the project available here:

Efforts to improve sustainable crop development are being spearheaded by a collaboration between the University of Leicester, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of Addis Ababa.

Researchers will work together to help enhance crop diversity for vulnerable populations. Their research will focus on the Ethiopian banana in order to better understand the crop species and its genetics. The crop has great potential for improving food security in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, especially in areas affected by drought.

Their work is a part of an initiative to address key global development challenges in securing future food supplies.  The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is leading a collaboration with the Medical Research Council (MRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to invest over £16M through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Foundation Awards for Global Agriculture and Food Systems Research.

“This investment will address a number of different threats to the sustainable production of safe and nutritious food, ranging from tackling pests and disease, examining human behaviours, and improving food safety and nutrition, through to the sustainability of agricultural soils and the wider cultural and social context of food and farming,” said Dr Amanda Collis, BBSRC Executive Director of Science. “The complexity of the research requires collaborative effort from a range of disciplines, and this is an exemplar of research councils coming together to address broad international development research challenges.”

A total of 35 individual projects – including one involving the University of Leicester - were awarded to 27 lead organisations. The awards connect the UK’s world-class research base with partners in Low and/or Middle Income Countries to address key sustainable development challenges.

The project “Modelling and genomics resources to enhance exploitation of the sustainable and diverse Ethiopian starch crop Enset” is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund under a Foundation Award for Global Agricultural and Food Systems Research from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison, of the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology at the University of Leicester, said: “Our exciting interdisciplinary project seeks to provide the foundation knowledge to help enable the exploitation of a sustainable and diverse Ethiopian starch crop known as Enset or Ethiopian banana, to support livelihoods in Africa.

“In collaboration with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of Addis Ababa, we will integrate genomic sequence, molecular diversity, pathology, tissue culture and cytogenetic data, with agroecological, physical trait and pest and disease incidence data derived from field research and farmer interview data from Ethiopia. The work builds on extensive expertise in Leicester firstly in working with Ethiopian scientists on crop species, and secondly on the genetics of banana.”

Dr. Paul Wilkin, Head of Natural Capital & Plant Health at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “It is widely known that just 3 crops – wheat, rice and maize – supply almost 60% of human nutrition. This is a risky strategy as we seek to provide for a growing global population with elevating levels of climatic instability and plant pests and diseases. Research on the diverse varieties of enset, a resilient crops of southern and western Ethiopia, is urgently needed to see how it could help provide a sustainable, diverse diet for vulnerable populations.

“Collaborative projects such as our research on Enset connecting scientists from nations like Ethiopia and the UK will be key to finding solutions to global challenges such as food and resource security. We seek to provide the information resources needed to underpin livelihoods in Ethiopia and beyond.”


Notes to editors:

More information on the Global Challenges Research Fund is available here:

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