15AGRITECHCAT3 - Improved crop breeding programmes through advanced Pollination Control Bag materials technology

Lead Research Organisation: National Inst of Agricultural Botany
Department Name: Genetics and Breeding

Abstract

Developing new crop varieties requires controlled pollination between parent plants with the desired characteristics. A good way of controlling this process is to carry it out within an isolated environment using a pollination control bag (PCB). These bags need to allow light penetration, control humidity and allow air circulation whilst preventing other pollen from entering the bag. Although, current PCBs conventionally made from a paper-based material are relatively cheap, they are single use and have a tendency to rip easily and are prone to slug infestation, which means that the environment is no longer sufficiently isolated to ensure a controlled cross pollination. Superior materials for PCBs that overcome these challenges
are therefore required. The project will investigate the technical and commercial feasibility of developing an innovative pollination control bag to improve crop breeding programmes used for three important agricultural crops: sugar beet, wheat and Miscanthus. A range of materials (woven and nonwoven), fibre technologies and techniques will be investigated and trialled with academic and commercial breeders with the aim of developing the next generation of pollination control bags to improve breeding outcomes, reduce losses caused by poor temperature and humidity control within the bag, and increase seed yield.

Technical Summary

Crop breeding is achieved through the selective and controlled breeding of two parent lines, aiming for improved yields, product quality or disease & pest resistance. Getting new varieties to market quicker is critical to the success of commercial seed producers. Pollination Control Bags (PCB) are commonly used to control pollination, preventing ingress of foreign pollen and contamination. Pollen is either puffed into the bag or pollinator insects are put inside the PCB to ensure the plants inside cross with each other. Due to heavy demands for space, high operating cost of glasshouses used for crossing, & large number of crosses undertaken, bagging helps to achieve rapid throughput of populations. Each individual genotype is labelled and a pollen-proof bag is placed over the heads and secured at the stem.

The pore size and type of fabric used are extremely important in any controlled pollination experiment. Various materials, including polyester, polyethylene, paper and glassine are commonly used for greenhouse breeding. Paper bags are widely used for sorghum, millet and maize breeding worldwide but are single use only, tend to rip easily and are prone to slug damage, resulting in an insufficienty isolated environment. Plastic, cellulose & nylon are currently used for PCBs in cereals and some insect pollinated crops. However, current PCB's or sleeves create an artificial microclimate which can be detrimental to the plant, so a substantial proportion of plants are usually lost to disease pressure and/or fail to gain sufficient seed for the next stage of testing. The technical output of the project will be a commercially viable, highly specialised PCB material building on prior knowledge of material engineering techniques to ensure manufacturability and hence commercial viability of the resulting product. This will improve pollination control and increase the efficiency of crop breeding programmes, thereby accelerating the development of new varieties.

Planned Impact

The project will result in a novel PCB material specification and PCB design. Data and evidence from material testing under greenhouse conditions to demonstrate feasibility for sugarbeet, Miscanthus and wheat will also be generated. This demonstration of technical feasibility will then require techno-economic assessment, including an assessment of potential manufacturing options and scale up prior to commercialization (approximately 12 months from project end). A fit-for-purpose PCB will significantly improve crop breeding programme efficiency, reduce costs for the breeders and also accelerate the rate at which new commercial crop varieties with improved yields, disease or pest resistance, and higher crop quality, can be discovered and brought to market. Improved seed set and germination rate could therefore decrease the number of crosses needed (perhaps by 50%), and will also allow scale-up of trialling progeny, thereby accelerating the development of new varieties with useful characteristics (e.g. drought tolerance, suitability for local soil conditions, pest resistance, increased yield) to meet ever increasing global demands for food and feedstocks to support a growing bioeconomy.
The agricultural sector and farmers specifically, will be the direct beneficiaries of these advances in plant breeding. Increased financial returns and more confidence in crop choice will come from the ability to choose from a wider range of crop varieties than is available at present. Improved plant breeding will be of benefit to society at large via stable crop prices and improved UK food security (in relation to sugar beet and wheat).
The manufacturers of PCBs will benefit from the success of this project via an increased market share. Whilst this project is focused on 3 key crops (sugar beet, wheat and Miscanthus), optimizing PCBs for other crops may also be possible through future collaborative R&D between the partners.
 
Title Pollen SEM images to lino block prints 
Description Artist Hannah Turlington used SEM images of wheat pollen (from NIAB) to produce limited edition lino block prints. Her work is focused on surface pattern design and she produces very limited runs (maximum 10). Her pollen artwork was used to produce a 2018 calendar by PBS International to supply to customers. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Unknown, all industry partners received the artwork in the PBS International calendar 
 
Title Pollination bag images 
Description NIAB photographs of pollination bags being used during experiments have been used by the commercial partner to promote the project and the potential new products to be developed. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Circulated to mailing list (embedded in newsletter) of all commercial partners customers. 
 
Description Initial reviews of literature and pollen microscopy work was used to inform that design of prototype pollination control bags. These were then manufactured and tested through a round of glasshouse wheat crossing to test three different material types vs. the standard glassine bag. Although no significant differences were found between the bag types, subtle differences were detected for some traits of interest. Across the crop types these were also observed and informed bag design for the second phase of testing. The second round was completed in 2017 with subtle differences again observed for traits, as well as manual differences for ease of handling. The full dataset (covering three crops and a model species) has been fully analysed in order to draw together general findings on the performance of the different materials tested.This has allowed the commercial partner to progress certain materials to product development for certain species. The consortium has now published the key findings of the work (PLOS ONE).
Exploitation Route The wheat breeding community have shown interest in the results of the project when it has been presented at meetings. This includes commercial breeders in the UK, public-sector breeders in India and breeders and researchers in Australia. In some cases there is limited access to good quality pollination control bags. In India, where much of the crossing occurs in the field there are opportunities to use some of the developed materials to improve efficiency. This could be further explored in future Innovate or GCRF projects. In the UK, commercial breeders are interested in increasing seed set from high value crosses as well as extending the time available in a glasshouse for crossing (via modulation of temperature fluctuations). There are therefore interesting future avenues to be explored and the project data supports this future potential .
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://www.niab.com/uploads/files/Crop_Pollination_Bags_A4_Sheets.pdf
 
Description Initial findings based on extensive literature review and experimentation were used to develop Phase I material for testing by the commercial partners. The first round of this testing was completed in early 2016 and data analysis informed Phase II development and testing which was completed in mid-2017. The meta-data analysis is complete and has now been publsihed. Next steps for exploitation are being discussed.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Pollen visualisation study 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Department of Physics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In order to describe wheat pollen (an underlying component of designing new materials to exclude it) we conducted an in-depth literature review. To supplement this we established a collaboration within the Physics Department of the University of Cambridge to enable us to visualise wheat pollen collected from relevant material in the glasshouse using a scanning electron microscope. This involved collecting material in the field and transferring it to the laboratory and preparing the materials for microscopy. The resulting images allowed us to better understand the characteristics of the pollen and was used as an element of informing new product design.
Collaborator Contribution The partners contributed their expertise and equipment to prepare the samples, optimise the methodology and to conduct the microscopy. This was done using different samples provided on two occasion and also included training of a student to take the images of the collected pollen samples. The in-kind value of this work is estimated at £1K
Impact Characterisation of wheat pollen to inform Phase I of product development.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Cambridge-Africa Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attendance at Cambridge-Africa 10th Anniversary meeting (1/5/18) and presentation of a poster detailing NIAB's work on germplasm development
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Cereals Event (Cambridgeshire) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Display of Pollination Bag technology on wheat plants at the 2016 Cereals event, the largest showcase for Arable farming in the UK. Bags were displayed on plants in plots and discussed with visitors to the display.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cerealsevent.co.uk/
 
Description Eric Danquah visit to NIAB 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit to NIAB of Eric Danquah, Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement to discuss partnership opportunities (2/5/18)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Hugo Oliviera visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit of Hugo Oliviera from University of Manchester to discuss collaborative opportunities in wheat genetics and pre-breeding (20/4/18)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited lecture UEA - wheat 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited MSc lecture at University of East Anglia "Wheat projects at NIAB" including specific focus on wheat pe-breeding (Germplasm), cereal nitrogen response (CINTRIN) and development of pollination control bags (12/12/19)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited seminar (The University of Bristol, Biological Sciences) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar (3/4/17) followed by networking lunch at The University of Bristol to describe work with a view to sharing knowledge and establishing new collaborative partnerships
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited seminar (University of Adelaide, Australia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited seminar at The University of Adelaide including Q&A session and networking event involving academics and industry
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited seminar (York) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited seminar at The University of York, School of Biology - overview of genetics and breeding work at NIAB
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited seminar University of Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar University of Leeds "Diversity and trait discovery for wheat improvement" including full day of discussion about opportunities for wider collaboration. Leading to further exchange of information, access to field trials and collaborative experiments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited talk at University of Leicester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited seminar University of Leicester "Bridging the gap - development of resources underpinning crop improvement" (15/5/19). Also included a full day of discussions on future collaborations leading to preparation of joint experiments and student training.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Monogram flash presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Flash presentation linking to conference paper on outline and objectives of the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description NIAB Directors Day (Cambridge) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Display of Pollination Bags at NIAB Directors Day - an invitation event for supporters of NIAB and key stakeholders. Formal tours of plots including an overview of project objectives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description NIAB Open Day (Cambridge) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Display of Pollination Bags on wheat ears in the field and discussion of project objectives and outcomes to date.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description NIAB Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact An internal, annual NIAB seminar to present and discuss existing and new research areas. Encouraged questions from a wide range of disciplines representing the company on technical and practical details of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Oxford Brookes seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar at Oxford Brookes University "Bridging the gap - resources and applied research underpinning crop improvement" (28/11/19) including a full day of discussions on opportunities for collaboration. Including potential plans for value-added collaboration on grain imaging for micronutrients (MillNETi) and root system architecture (CINTRIN)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description RANK Prize meeting talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact "Separating the wheat from the chaff: diversity as a driver/destroyer of genetic gain" Invited talk at RANK Prize Fund mini-symposium on "The Shape of Wheat to Come", Windermere, UK (21/2/18)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018