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Research sows the seeds of improved diet

Posted on 27 November 2014

Scientists in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York are part of a major research project launched today to help provide improved crops for the future.

A field of oil seed rape. (Photo by Philip Halling from

The three-year study is one of seven involving collaborations between researchers in the UK and India which aim to provide crops suitable for a changing climate and to produce more food with fewer inputs.

Researchers from CNAP, part of the Department of Biology at York, will work with scientists from the University of Delhi to improve the diversity of the Brassica species -- oilseed rape, cultivated widely in the UK, and mustard rape which is grown extensively in India.

Among oilseed crops, they are second in global production only to soybean. Vegetable oils are an important part of the human diet, providing essential fatty acids. 

The research will aim to broaden the genetic bases of the crops and identify the genes underpinning trait variation in both. As well as being important crops, the Brassica species represent an excellent system for scientists to study the evolution of genomes and the quantitative control of traits in the constituent genes.

Oilseed rape and mustard rape which diverged from a common ancestor each have two genes, of which one is common to both. The researchers will examine the traits of importance in the respective second genes with a view to improving genetic diversity and ultimately the commercial production of both mustard rape and oilseed rape. .

 Professor Ian Bancroft, who will lead the research in CNAP, said: “What we are aiming to do is to provide the genetic platform to aid breeders to identify markers for important traits such as oil, protein and glucosinolates in both species. It is an extension of work we are already doing at York and will involve sharing genetic resources with colleagues in Delhi. There will also be a strong training element.”

The £600,000 research has been made possible thanks to £5 million funding from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and matched resources from India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

Professor Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: “These projects combine the strengths of researchers in India and the UK to help provide solutions to increasing food demands. Advances in sequencing, genomic and bioinformatic tools enable us to improve crops more rapidly than ever before to facilitate the step-change in agricultural productivity that will be required to feed the world sustainably.”

Further information:

  • The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is an award winning strategic research centre based in the Department of Biology at the University of York. CNAP is dedicated to realising the potential of plants as renewable, low-cost factories that produce high-value chemicals and biofuels. Laboratory based discoveries are translated into practice in partnership with industry. For more information about CNAP visit
  • For more information on the University of York’s Department of Biology visit
  • BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
  • Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £467m (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
  • For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see



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