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Gene discovery could help to boost crop yields

Posted on 12 August 2010

A discovery by scientists at the University of York of a vital feature of a plant's temperature sensing and growth mechanism could help to increase yields from crops.

Researchers in the University’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) have found a gene that plays a significant role in the growth rate of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

There is potential for this discovery to be used to increase crop yields by extending the growing season particularly in spring and autumn

Dr Steve Penfield

The study published in the latest issue of Current Biology reveals that plants without the SPT gene grow at a faster rate at lower temperatures, but nevertheless have the same tolerance to freezing as plants that have the gene.

The research also shows that daytime temperatures have a particular influence on plant growth and that the SPT gene allows plants to measure temperature in the morning.

Because most British crops are winter varieties that are sown in the autumn and harvested the following summer, plants that can grow larger during the lower temperatures of autumn, winter and spring have the potential to yield more biomass and larger numbers of seeds.

CNAP’s Dr Steve Penfield, who led the research team said: “There is potential for this discovery to be used to increase crop yields by extending the growing season particularly in spring and autumn.”

The research also involved scientists from the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Notes to editors:

  • The article ‘SPATULA Links Daytime Temperature and Plant Growth Rate’ appears in the latest issue of Current Biology.
  • The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is an academic research centre which specialises in gene discovery for plant- and microbial-based applications using biology to benefit society and to provide a sustainable future. Target-led programmes in CNAP are underpinned by fundamental and strategic research, funded by UK Research Councils particularly the BBSRC, charitable organisations, EU framework programmes and US funding agencies.
  • CNAP is part of the University of York’s Department of Biology, one of the leading centres for biological teaching and research in the UK. In the recent Research Assessment Exercise, the Department was equal first among broad spectrum bioscience departments. The Department both teaches degree courses and undertakes research across the whole spectrum of modern Biology, from molecular genetics and biochemistry to ecology.

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David Garner
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