Spraying for Yield

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Plant Biology & Crop Science


Crop yields must double in the next 35 years to meet projected global food demand. However, annual yield improvements of major crops are increasing below the rate required. We have pioneered new technology building on previous BBSRC funding that significantly increases grain size and overall yield of wheat. The sugar signalling mechanism mediated by trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P) regulates the allocation of sucrose within the plant and the conversion of sucrose to starch in grain. Through a plant science-chemistry collaboration, UV-cleavable T6P precursors have been developed that enable T6P to be increased in wheat grain to increase conversion of sucrose into starch increasing grain size and yield by up to 20%. To support translation of this fundamental research into commercialisation the project will: 1) to demonstrate efficacy in field environments typical of global wheat production; 2) to develop methodology for scale up synthesis of T6P precursor suitable for large-scale application.


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Description We have discovered a new more efficient path for the synthesis of DMNB-T6P, which is precursor of sugar signalling compound trehalose 6-phosphate which has potential as a crop spray for crop yield improvement.
Initial sprays have been conducted on field trial plots to optimise dosage and timing of spraying of DMNB-T6P.
After initial range finding for concentrations and dosages of DMNB-T6P we are starting to achieve large yield improvements up to 17% in wheat field trials in Argentina. This is as large an increase as was observed under controlled environment conditions. The results establish without doubt that the technology works in the field as well as under controlled conditions. The data in Argentina were obtained under rain fed conditions. We think there is an interaction with water availability at key developmental stages and further experiments will establish the detail of this interaction.
From field tests in the UK, in addition to effects of DMNB-T6P on grain size there appear to be previously unseen effects on grain numbers up to 18.7% increase. Where grain numbers are increased, grain size is slightly reduced. Nevertheless, overall yield improvements are observed between 12-15%. This work is now being followed up with further testing on the interaction between grain number and size.
We have found that DMNB-T6P works in a dry year (2020) in addition to the wet year (2019). However, there were differences in how varieties responded in the two years. A variety that increased yield through grain size was favoured in 2019 (+18.7%), but a variety that increased grain numbers was favoured in 2020 (+15%).
We have determined that T6P spray works in field conditions
1) in wet and dry years
2) in elite cultivars increasing yield by almost a fifth in field conditions. This may represent the upper limit of the yield increase in the field that can be achieved with T6P spray in elite cultivars.
3) through increases in either grain size or number depending on the cultivar
4) in a region of the world, Argentina, representative of global wheat production where wheat yields are typically between 3-6 tonnes per ha.
5) The best yield increase achieved in Argentina represents 22 years of breeding gains
6) Yield increases are achieved without any extra input of fertiliser or chemical therefore mitigating climate change by increasing yield with no extra CO2 output
Exploitation Route We hope to develop the work as a spray to enhance yields of crops such as wheat and others, both in agriculture and horticulture. It is possible that yield potential, yield resilience and more specialised traits such as control of flowering time could be modified with T6P sprays.
We have formed a spinout company SugaROx.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description We have formed a spinout company SugaROx to develop the T6P spray technology to improve crop yields and traits in agriculture and horticulture.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

Description Work funded by BBSRC has enabled us to discover a mechanistic basis for sugar signalling in plants and crops. Trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P) is a sugar signal that promotes growth and development and metabolic reprogramming through a protein kinase, SnRK1. Chemical modification of T6P to enable uptake into plants has shown through application as a spray that T6P can increase crop yields in field conditions. SugaROx was formed to take forward IP from patents regarding yield enhancement, recovery from drought, stimulation of flowering and suppression sprouting. So far focus has been on wheat, but it is likely that T6P spray will have wide application for many crops. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact Attracting investment and now expanding activities