PHOTOWHEAT: Exploiting variation in stomatal dynamics and ear photosynthesis to optimise wheat productivity.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

World demand for food is growing and it has been estimated that a 50% increase in yield will be needed to meet the increasing demand due to the growing world population. This situation is further exacerbated by the changing climate and the competing demand for plants as biofuels. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into carbohydrates and other chemical compounds, which are used for growth. Photosynthesis takes place in all green parts of the plants and although most research focuses on leaf photosynthesis, recent studies have shown that ear photosynthesis is important for graining yield, particularly when leaves maybe damaged or stressed. Furthermore, in order for leaf photosynthesis to take place CO2 must enter the leaf through adjustable stomatal pores and at the same time water is lost through these pores cooling the leaf down. It is important to maintain an optimal leaf temperature for photosynthesis, as high temperatures greatly reduce photosynthesis and crop yield. Stomata are continually adjusting to changing environmental conditions to balance CO2 uptake with water loss. The greater the speed at which stomata react to such changes in the dynamic environment the better they can coordinate CO2 and leaf temperature which leads to optimal photosynthesis and grain yield. The aim of this research proposal is to identify wheat lines and the genes behind enhanced stomatal dynamics for optimal leaf temperature and enhanced ear photosynthesis for breeders to use to increase wheat yields. Using a MAGIC wheat breeding population will allow us to identify specific DNA regions and deliver selected wheat parental lines for future breeding programmes. In the past new crop varieties have been produced by crossing together existing strains with traits of interest. This undirected approach did not always lead to the selections of strains displaying higher crop yields. Nowadays, genetic fingerprinting of varieties allows us to precisely identify good progeny. MAGIC wheat breeding populations work on this principle and rely on crossing several founder lines (or parents) to produce a diverse population with a genetic map. We will use a MAGIC population of wheat to find gene regions which lead to high ear photosynthesis and rapid stomatal movements which are beneficial traits for future breeding programmes aimed at increasing food productivity.

Technical Summary

It has been estimated that increases of 50% will be required in the yield of grain crops such as wheat and rice if food supply is to meet the demands of the increases in the world population. There is clearly an urgent need to develop crop plants that yield higher outputs per unit area of land, without having to increase inputs of fertiliser or water. The overall aim of this research proposal is to use novel screening techniques to screen a wheat MAGIC population for 1) enhanced photosynthesis in wheat flag leaves and ears and (2) improved speed of stomatal responses to dynamic changes in the environment. Using thermal imaging we will assess variation in stomatal responsiveness to changes in light, temperature and water status in order to determine wheat lines that can optimize stomatal behaviour for leaf/canopy temperature optimal photosynthesis. Using chlorophyll fluorescence we will determine photosynthetic rates and capacity in the flag and ears in a wheat MAGIC population. A detailed physiological screening protocol will produce key trait that will be used for QTL analysis. Flag and ear photosynthesis and canopy temperature will be also be evaluated in field trials on selected lines. Results from both the laboratory and field studies will be used to identify and select HIFs for further analysis. A major outcome of this work will be production of HIFs for gene identification and future breeding programmes.

Planned Impact

The project contributes to the Food Security Strategic Priority of the BBSRC. A key impact delivered through conventional breeding programmes will be improvements in wheat varieties better adapted to different environments. Varieties with greater levels of productivity and water use efficiency will help meet essential targets in food security and sustainable food production in the UK and worldwide. The research addresses environmental sustainability of crop production through use of novel high-throughput photosynthetic phenotyping combined with genetic mapping to identify markers that can be applied in practical wheat breeding programmes.

Better understanding of the control of stomatal dynamics, canopy temperatures and the role of ear photosynthesis in plant carbon gain will accelerate the development and manipulation of plants for more efficient photosynthesis, the process that ultimately drives productivity per unit cultivated land area. Breeding programmes that incorporate project findings will be better placed to develop varieties with improved stomatal dynamics, and thus increased water use efficiency and greater carbon gain per unit of resource (water, land, nutrients) input. This contributes to the sustainability of food production. The main non-academic beneficiaries of this research will be the agri-biotech sector and commercial breeders, and in particular the agri-businesses that have programmes to increase yield of crop plants. The importance of the work is illustrated by our Industrial Partnership Award with Bayer CropScience (BCS). (As part of their contribution to this project BCS will also conduct field trials to evaluate their potential for future breeding programmes.) This demonstrates the real potential for commercialization from this research. The findings will also be important for policy-makers interested in developing novel strategies to achieve food security, as well as the public who will benefit from food security and better agricultural use of water resources.
The project will benefit the professional career development of the RAs. The RAs will be trained in a wide range of research skills, including gaining scientific practical skills in plant physiology and communication skills through the dissemination of the research. The RAs will also be encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial skills through interactions with the industrial partner, BCS. Many of the skills, such as data handling and analysis, independent planning and communication of results are transferable to other employment sectors. They will have the benefit of the excellent intellectual environment of a university with close ties with industry as well as the experience of working with partners at NIAB and BCS.
One of the main challenges for crop improvement programmes is identifying genetic targets that have significant and predictable impact on yield. This research will lead to a greater understanding of stomatal dynamics and limitations to photosynthesis (via control of CO2 diffusion and leaf/canopy temperatures) and consequently productivity. It will quantify the role and contribution of ear photosynthesis to yield, which will help prioritise this trait as a potential breeding target. The identification of loci or even genes that control ear/leaf photosynthesis and stomatal dynamics should lead to the development of markers to assist selections. By using the established MAGIC population we will contribute substantially to the growing body of phenotypic and genotypic data describing these lines, enabling future work that can include modelling genotype x phenotype interactions and system biology network models. Findings that contribute to our fundamental understanding of leaf gas exchange and photosynthetic regulation can be applied to other species, and ultimately, translation of this research to other crops will benefit the UK and global economy and food security.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have discovered substantial variation in assimilation rate and kinetics of stomatal behaviour in MAGIC wheat parents and progeny. These potentially provide unexploited targets for future breeding programmes. We have also shown that development and growth conditions impact on this variation. Further work is on-going.
Exploitation Route Future work will elucidate the gene(s) and mechanisms that influence the speed of responses or photosynthetic capacity.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

URL https://www.tlawsonlab.co.uk/photowheat.html
 
Description Agritech Event (Essex) to show case research activities to the industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact To showcase and describe research funding at Essex as well as our expertise and capabilities for interacting with the agriculture sector in order to facilitate collaborative research across the faculty and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.agritech-east.co.uk/agri-tech-member/university-of-essex/#
 
Description Agritech Week event Essex 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact University of Essex Agritech event.
The event show cased research from Biological Sciences, including the expertise for the Lawson lab. It included presentations, lab-tours and workshop o see and discuss latest developments that are being applied in agricultural sector including:
• Drones
• Image analysis
• Measurement of plant performance
• Stress and disease monitoring
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Chairing a session at the Annual SEB meeting 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Co-chairing an SEB session on Stomata and photosynthetic regulation of water use efficiency at the annual SEB meeting in Seville.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.sebiology.org/events/event/seb-seville-2019/programme/plant-biology#stomatal
 
Description Gatsby masterclass 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Practical activity in which A level student extracted DNA from GM plant material and carried out PCR to check for gene of interest. This resulted in questions and discussions regarding the methods and the importance of plant science and "feeding the world".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited seminar speaker Viikki Plant Science Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar describe current research and findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www2.helsinki.fi/en/news/science-news/vips-invited-seminar-december-2020
 
Description Nominated and selected as Co-chair of the GRC CO2 assimilation, USA 2019, and Chair of GRC on the next conference in Italy May 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Nominated and selected by peer to be the co-chair for the 2019 conference, and chair for the 2021 GRC conference on CO2 assimilation.

https://www.grc.org/co2-assimilation-in-plants-from-genome-to-biome-conference/2019/
https://www.grc.org/co2-assimilation-in-plants-from-genome-to-biome-conference/2021/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.grc.org/co2-assimilation-in-plants-from-genome-to-biome-conference/2019/
 
Description Nuffield Research placement provider 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Provided three summer placement funded by Nuffield for students to gain experience of working in a lab. Students built curiosity in plant sciences and in particular stomatal behavior. They had the opportunity to experience a real research lab environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Organisor of satellite meeting of the International Photosynthetic congress in Essex 
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 Organised Phenotyping for Photosynthesis and productivity meeting. This included raising sponsorship from industry to pay for the event. Keynote speakers who were experts in the field were invited from around the world and their expenses paid for. The meeting show cased the latest technology and developments in the field. A review is currently under revisions that provides an overview of the meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2016
 
Description PEPG workshop 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The Plant Environmental Physiology Group (PEPG) is a special interest group of the Society for Experimental Biology and the British Ecological Society The Workshop provided a unique opportunity for MSc, PhD students and early career researchers to gain hands-on experience and training in plant ecophysiology techniques from leading scientists and manufacturers. There were 65 student from all around the world. The practical sessions stimulated research discussion and approaches. A poster session also provided the students with the opportunity to interact with established scientist and ask questions of their own research and approaches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://sites.google.com/prod/view/pepg-workshop
 
Description Plant Ecophysiology group workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The PEP group is a special interest group of the SEB and BES. In 2012 Lawson organised a techniques workshop to train the next generation of scientists in some of the key physiological techniques. The week long event comprised of morning lecturer/seminar for expert researchers in the field followed by hands on practical sessions supported by the Industrial manufacturers. Lawson organised the 2014 sessions and is co-organiser of the 2016 and 2018 events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2014,2016,2018
URL https://sites.google.com/prod/view/drrjwebster/pepg-workshop
 
Description Royal Society Partnership grant which included a 2.5 day visit to local 6th form school (Suffolk one). 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Royal Society partnership grant enabled thermal camera to be purchased by the school. Lawson visited the school to present a seminar about the effect of climate change on stomatal behaviour and the use of thermal cameras to monitor plant performance. This was followed by a practical session involving droughted and water watered plants. As part of the assessment the students had to prepare and present posters to explain their findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Royal Society student conference (London RS) December 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This event followed the Royal Society partnership award that between myself at the University of Essex and Dr Tanja Hofmann One, Ipswich. This event included poster presentation by the school students as well as a display stand to demonstrate the application and benefits of using thermography to assess plant performance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Saclay Plant Sciences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar series to present recent work and findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www6.inrae.fr/saclay-plant-sciences_eng/Events/Online-SPS-Seminars/Tracy-Lawson-19-10-2020
 
Description School Seminar (Bristol University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lunch time seminar showcase research activities and finding based on funded research within the lab.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description School Seminar (Glasgow University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lunch time seminar showcase research activities and finding based on funded research within the lab.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar speaker for the 1st Brazilian photosynthesis meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Research seminar to share data and findings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.even3.com.br/brsymphotosynthesis20/
 
Description Speaker at the PEPg workshop (Lisbon) 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The Plant Environmental Physiology Group (PEPG) is a special interest group of the Society for Experimental Biology and the British Ecological Society The Workshop provided a unique opportunity for MSc, PhD students and early career researchers to gain hands-on experience and training in plant ecophysiology techniques from leading scientists and manufacturers. There were 65 student from all around the world. The practical sessions stimulated research discussion and approaches. A poster session also provided the students with the opportunity to interact with established scientist and ask questions of their own research and approaches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://sites.google.com/prod/view/pepg-workshop/Home?authuser=0
 
Description Visited VIT India 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Presented some basic information on photosynthesis, followed by our research in the area of trying to improve photosynthetic capacity to increase yield. This raised a number of questions regarding the processes, mechanisms and even the use of GM technology and alternatives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019