Food Security and Land Research Alliance

Published on: 18 August 2014

Research from the FSLRA is helping to boost the banana's defences.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that food production will need to increase by 40 per cent by 2030, to meet growing demands; with increasing competition for land and predictions of water scarcity, we are facing global crises in food security and land management for crops and livestock.

The Food Security and Land Research Alliance (FSLRA), a collaboration between University of Exeter, University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and Rothamstead Research, are using cross-institutional research to tackle these problems and find solutions for these global concerns.

The five institutions have proven strengths in the research areas of food security, sustainability, crops and climate science. Their cross-discipline research has been delivering exciting results in areas as diverse as how to improve water efficiency using technology, how conserving seagrass helps to support biodiversity and why researching historical food security provides new views on biodiversity.

Director of FSLRA, Professor Michael Winter OBE said that working with other institutions has helped support University of Exeter’s research. He explained: “Responding to the food security challenge requires a multidisciplinary approach and by coming together as an alliance we bring together the strengths of all of the institutions. Rothamstead is very strong with agricultural sciences and Exeter, Cardiff, Bath and Bristol all bring strengths in different areas of biosciences.”

Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has helped the alliance develop the North Wyke farm platform – a Research Hotel for agri-environmental researchers. The platform is run by Rothamstead Research and aims to give researchers the resources to tackle problems of food security by studying food production in situ.

One of Exeter’s strengths in bioscience is in the area of plant pathology; research in this area is being used to address problems of food security that are having a negative effect on communities around the world.

The impact of bacterial wilt on bananas – a major food and cash source in East Africa – has devastated the livelihood of millions of people. However a breakthrough in enhancing the banana’s defences might be on the cards, thanks to University of Exeter researchers Dr David Studholme and Professor Murray Grant.

The potential impact for this research is life changing, Dr Studholme explained: “Our research may contribute to improved detection and diagnostics as well as more effective disease control on banana and the closely related crop, enset – also known as the false banana.

“We are also using genomics to identify genetic variation among enset plants with differing susceptibilities to the disease; working with colleagues in Africa, we hope these genetic markers will assist breeding of disease resistance in this important crop.”

Research into the banana-wilt pathogen began in 2008 when the Gatsby foundation awarded funding to the Food and Environment Research Agency researcher Dr Julian Smith in collaboration with The University of Exeter and The Sainsbury Laboratory. The initial grant led to funding from the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda (NARO). The researchers, in collaboration with NARO scientists used genome sequence data to discover how the bacteria was spreading and what genetic enhancements will boost the bananas’ defences.

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