Farm2Lab Link Platform

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Biology


Knowledge transfer from fundamental plant science to in-field crop growth represents a major challenge in the development of new crop varieties. Demonstrating that genetic variants with demonstrable benefits under lab conditions will still have those benefits when grown under field conditions is difficult, typically requiring multi-year assessment of new crop varieties in field trials. Simultaneously, there is also a pressing need to accelerate the development of new crop varieties and management strategies, to address the grand challenges of feeding 9-10 billion people by the middle of the century and net zero food production at least a decade before that. We will address these interlinked problems by the establishment of a world-leading facility that will accelerate the translation of lab-based research to the farm and farm-based research to the lab by providing the capability to mirror, in real-time, fluctuating light and temperature conditions at the University of Leeds Farm and field sites, anywhere in the world. The platform will also link to developing UoL, national and international initiatives to create digital twins of agricultural and natural landscape systems and provide the means to test future climate scenarios by varying elements of the physical environment such as temperature, rainfall and CO2 levels, either individually or in combination. This facility will close the translation gap between lab and field for the development of new crop germplasm, by allowing us to demonstrate that new germplasm is 'farm ready' in a lab environment, and by accelerating the testing of new varieties through single-parameter testing. This facility will also have a wider impact on the development of crop varieties, by establishing a technological blueprint and methodologies for off-farm crop testing.

Technical Summary

The translation of fundamental research to applied environments is a well-recognised challenge. In the field of plant research, a major obstacle to translation is the demonstrating that crop varieties that are effective in controlled conditions will be effective in the field. Traditionally, controlled environments have been hindered by programming that only allows simple variation in environmental parameters, (e.g. between day and night), but does not allow the natural hour-to-hour, day-to-day and season-to-season variation plants are typically exposed to. This has strongly limited the ability to conclude that germplasm will grow successfully under field conditions. However, recent technical developments in programming, fine-scale temperature and humidity control, and tuneable multi-spectral LED lighting allow for the implementation of controlled environment rooms that can simulate natural environmental conditions in single or multiple parameters. In this project, we will develop a 'Farm2Lab' platform capability which can replicate any combination of environmental parameters -- past, present or future -- with minute-to-minute resolution. We can thus replicate (and modulate) the central elements of field conditions (temperature, humidity, light quality, photoperiod), without the risk of herbivory, pathogenesis and freak weather events inherent in field trials. We can thereby both accelerate the testing of new germplasm in a controlled, safe yet realistic manner, and test fundamental new research hypotheses under quasi-natural environmental conditions.


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Roychoudhry S (2022) The Analysis of Gravitropic Setpoint Angle Control in Plants. in Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)