SCIENCE PROJECT

SUREROOT

Roots for the future - a systematic approach to root design

PROJECT SUMMARY

START DATE:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 15:15

DURATION:

5 years

PROJECT LEADER:

FUNDERS:

  • BBSRC
  • Industry  - Germinal Seeds Ltd. | Waitrose Ltd. |  Stonegate Farmers Ltd. | Mole Valley Farmers Ltd. | Dalehead foods Ltd. | Müller UK & Ireland Group LLP. | Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales | Gressingham Ltd.|Dovecote | Coombe Farm | British Grassland Society | Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. 

In response to the increasing frequency and intensity of rainfall events in the UK, this five-year research project will determine whether soils can be modified by perennial grassland species to reduce incidents of flooding and drought whilst maintaining agronomic productivity and quality.

We are testing the specific hypotheses: 

  • Variations in individual plant root phenotype in grasses and legumes may be replicated in crops grown under field conditions; 
  • Variants for grass or legume root growth and turnover can benefit soil structure and hydrology; 
  • Interspecific grass and clover hybrids grown as mixtures can further enhance environmental service; 
  • Modified root phenotype for environmental service is achievable without compromise to agronomic performance.

The project combines BBSRC and industry funded science to develop improved rooting systems in grasses and clover for sustainable livestock systems and for ecosystem service. This research builds on the outcomes of the BBSRC 'SuperGraSS' project, which showed that a Festulolium (ryegrass/fescue species) hybrid with modified root architecture had potential for flood control. This new project will build on SuperGraSS’s preliminary data and exploit the vast genetic variation available within forage species to modify root dynamics to mitigate the effects of excess or deficient rainwater supply.

DETAIL

Major benefits to the UK environment can only be achieved when significant land areas are included and in agriculture when a crop is dispersed widely, and is persistent and perennial, ensuring benefits gained are maintained over years. Only grasslands provide these attributes and opportunities. 

In response to the increasing frequency and intensity of rainfall events in the UK, this project will determine whether soils can be modified by perennial grassland species to reduce incidents of flooding and drought, whilst maintaining agronomic productivity and quality. The project builds on the success of the BBSRC 'SuperGraSS' project published recently in Nature Scientific Reports (2013; DOI:10.1038/srep01683), which showed that a Festulolium (ryegrass/fescue species) hybrid with modified root architecture had potential for flood control - reducing run-off by 51% compared to a UK National Recommended variety of perennial ryegrass used widely in UK grassland agriculture. SUREROOT builds on SuperGraSS’s preliminary data and exploits the vast genetic variation available within forage species to modify root dynamics to mitigate the effects of excess or deficient rainwater supply. 

The multifunctional potential of perennial grasslands to deliver both economic and environmental benefits is being quantified using the IBERS National Plant Phenomics Centre (NPPC) and Rothamsted Research North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP), as well as commercial farms located in diverse locations in the UK and incorporating alternative livestock management. A major UK commercial grassland seed producer will market new and efficient varieties developed in the project. We will explore the potential of both forage grasses and legumes, grown separately or as species' mixtures (the practice used commonly in UK farming) for flood control, but also for resilience to water deficit. The project will test whether the impact of modified root phenotype is replicated across scales and complexity, paving the way for breeding within the project time-lines of improved plant varieties for combined environmental service and agronomic performance.

This project will test the specific HYPOTHESES:

  • H1 Variations in individual plant root phenotype in grasses and legumes may be replicated in crops grown under field conditions;
  • H2 Variants for grass or legume root growth and turnover can benefit soil structure and hydrology;
  • H3 Interspecific grass and clover hybrids grown as mixtures can further enhance environmental service;
  • H4 Modified root phenotype for environmental service is achievable without compromise to agronomic performance.

This project utilises the resources of the North Wyke Farm Platform at Rothamsted, the National Plant Phenotyping Centre and detailed genomic technologies at IBERS, to develop grasses and legumes that will improve their resilience and potential for enhancing ecosystem services provided by UK grasslands. Vast genetic and phenotypic variation for root architecture and ontogeny is available within ryegrass and clover species, which may be extended further by using wild-type relatives. Thus far, such opportunities have not been exploited in commercial plant breeding in a systematic scientific approach such as that to be used here. Our preliminary results indicate that root designs for environmental service can be achieved without compromise to agronomic performance. Climate-smart agriculture is required to address the two major challenges of climate change and food security, and this requires use of "climate-smart" technology and multidiscipline research such as that employed in the current proposal. The full support and engagement of the industrial partners in the consortium will enable evaluation and future exploitation of project outcomes as they arise.

Developing New Grasses and Clovers for the UK

COLLABORATORS

Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University - Prof. Mike Humphreys; Prof. Athole Marshall 

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