The increasing scarcity of natural resources, the intensification of environmental pressure and the likelihood of future climate change together present modern agriculture with a major challenge. While both the quantity and end-use quality of crops need to be increased to satisfy the demand of a growing world population, it is important to also reduce the use of chemical inputs (fertilizer and pesticides), while also enhancing the resilience of crops such as barley, maize and wheat to extremes of temperature, to moisture stress and to nutrient deficiency. The breeding of robust and stress tolerant, yet still high yielding crop varieties is a crucial prerequisite for achieving the goal of sustainable agriculture.
The Physiology and Cell Biology department conducts its research through the application of a wide range of technologies and analytical methods, including microscopy, transcriptomics, metabolomics and mass spectrometry. The research is focused on elucidating how plants respond to abiotic stress factors such as drought or nutrient deficiency. This knowledge is then used to improve key heritable plant traits, including the efficiency of nutrient uptake by the roots, the depth of the root system and protection from damage caused by UV radiation or dehydration.
A major priority of the research is the identification and characterisation of genes determining variation in either the plant’s tolerance of stress or its yield potential. Knowing the identity of these genes, or even just their genomic location, can be used to improve plant performance via marker-aided selection. Going forward, the expectation is that genome editing technology will allow interventions to alter the function of specific genes relevant to yield or stress tolerance.