My work aims to improve crop performance under times of uncertain climatic and weather variability. It is centred in the whole plant stress physiology of fresh produce species including lettuce, Brassica and culinary herb crops, investigating abiotic stress tolerance, hydroponic culture, nutritional quality, leaf and rib quality disorders and growth modification using stress applications. Projects have included stress physiology assay design and population screening, quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of traits in vegetable mapping populations and molecular-based detection and survey of soil-borne pathogens of oilseed rape
My current research investigates the improvement of crop performance in environmentally stressful situations. This work forms part of the Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network (VeGIN) project, a Defra-funded collaboration between Harper Adams and Warwick Universities .
Climate change represents one of the greatest threats to the future of global agriculture and so to human nutrition. Together with increased weather variability, this is leading to both long- and short-term variation in crop growing conditions, which can cause a number of abiotic (environmental) crop stresses such as drought and waterlogging. Such stresses can be particular severe for crops during the transplantation stage when they are planted out in the field as seedlings.
I am exploring whole plant stress physiology in vegetable Brassicas, lettuce, carrot and onion, developing and using stress protocols in order to analyse the response of crop collections such as Diversity Fixed Foundation Sets (DFFSs) and Recombinant Inbred Line (RIL) mapping populations to temperature, salinity, drought, waterlogging and nutrient availability fluctuations. This will allow the identification of stress-resilient lines and resilience-associated Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) in order to provide useful genetic material for crop breeding programmes.
Previously, we have developed and used systems to screen vegetable Brassica populations and identified significant variation in abiotic stress resilience (Beacham et al., 2017). Resilient B. oleracea lines were found for multiple types of stress (drought, waterlogging, salinity, heat and freezing) in several different crop types, providing promising results for the breeding of stress resilience into different Brassica crops. Additionally, some lines were found to be resilient to more than one type of stress. Similar approaches have also been used in the VeGIN project to investigate nutrient deficiency in lettuce collections.
Beneficial crop lines highlighted in the study will then progress to breeding programmes with commercial partners in order to generate new crop varieties with improved resilience to environmental stress and better performance under variable weather conditions. In this way, we hope to help safeguard the future of production of these crops by increasing their environmental durability.
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