Global Meteorological Simulator (GMS): For plant health and disease

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Crop diseases, pests and global pollinator decline all pose a major threat to agricultural productivity and world food security. Thus, one of the key questions facing the scientific community and posed by government, industry, environmental and consumer bodies is "How can plant health be sustainably protected?"

Plants have sophisticated mechanisms for sensing and adapting to changing environments and their interactions with pathogens, pests and pollinators are critically impacted by weather and climate. For example, the biophysical properties of water-leaf interactions impact the transmission of splash-dispersed fungal pathogens, wind and rain shape the fitness costs of pesticide resistance and pollinator success depends on floral humidity.

We have identified a gap in the UK's capability to carry out research into plant health and disease that sits somewhere between the current portfolio of controlled environmental technologies and large field studies. The widely used plant growth chambers cannot accurately capture or control weather conditions like wind, rain and fog. By contrast, field studies face challenges with control and replication which is important for plant research.

As a result of detailed discussions with a world leading designer and supplier of customised, controlled environments for plant research we propose to purchase a unique custom-built Global Meteorological Simulator (GMS) that has the potential to fundamentally change our approach to research across a wide BBSRC-facing remit. The GMS will enable the control of temperature, light, humidity and CO2, and will provide the novel features of rainfall, fog and wind control. The design will maximise the number of replicate experiments that can be carried out concurrently whilst maintaining large-scale experimental capability.

The GMS brings together a gender-balanced team of investigators from a wide range of disciplines that includes Biosciences, Mathematics, the Medical School and Psychology and that span all career stages. The research projects will utilise the team's expertise in plant physiology, microbiology, applied entomology, neuroethology, computational biology and mathematical modelling to address important challenges of how environment and climate change affect:

1. Crop disease epidemiology, transmission, virulence and antimicrobial resistance
2. Plant growth, development and plant-pathogen interactions
3. Circadian rhythms and collective algal movement
4. Plant-pest interactions and pesticide resistance dynamics
5. Plant-pollinator interactions, multisensory behaviour and the spatial learning of pollinators.

This will create potential for ground-breaking discoveries for plant heath. Moreover, the GMS will promote and expand interdisciplinary collaborations across the University of Exeter, the South-West region and importantly, with our industrial partners.

Technical Summary

Over 10 years ago the United Nations issued the stark warning that we need to double our food production by 2050 to meet demands from the world's growing population. There are serious obstacles to achieving this goal: crop pathogens, pests and a global decline in pollinators all pose a major threat to agricultural productivity. It is therefore clear that innovative and sustainable strategies in plant research are needed to combat this crisis.

A critical aspect of research into plant health and disease is having the ability to generate detailed understanding of how the microclimate affects (a) plant physiology, (b) disease lifecycle and transmission dynamics, (c) fitness costs of pesticide and antimicrobial resistance and (d) pest and pollinator behaviour. Only then can we begin to accurately make large-scale predictions that can sustainably promote and protect plant health in the face of environmental challenges and climate change.

We propose to purchase a unique custom-built, state-of-the-art Global Meteorological Simulator (GMS) that will enable much-needed plant research across scales, from genes and molecules though to populations and ecosystems. The key novelty of the GMS is its ability to control microclimate conditions (temperature, humidity, light, CO2) with the novel capabilities of rainfall, fog, wind speed and wind direction control, which are all likely to be critical for understanding plant health and disease. Importantly, the GMS will be able to simulate past, current and predicted future climate scenarios using real-world meteorological data from anywhere in the world, thus adding realism while maintaining control.

The establishment of GMS at the University of Exeter has the potential to transform the way we carry out BBSRC-facing research in the UK and strengthen the links with industrial collaborators. This will open new international collaborative opportunities that underpin global efforts into sustainably protecting plant health.


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Description Global Meteorological Simulator 
Organisation PepsiCo
Department PepsiCo, UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This is a mid-range equipment award and we are building a new platform (GMS) for studying plant diseases
Collaborator Contribution The plan is to: • Provide core crop samples for GMS trials, • Carry out analyses on plants to support validation and trial worksteams. • PepsiCo R&D SME's will join your project steering group to provide guidance and support to the project. • Offer expert advice and support based on our years of R&D experience in the Agro sector. • Promote the project activities and outcomes to our partners and through our stakeholder networks. • Host a workshop for the project team and partners to convene and identify impact and exploitation opportunities.
Impact the platform is still being built so no outputs yet
Start Year 2022
Description Global meteorological simulator 
Organisation AstraZeneca
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This is a mid range equipment grant and we are building a new platform for studying plant health and disease.
Collaborator Contribution How plant protection products impact the selection for antimicrobial resistance in the environment is a novel research area. Microclimate undoubtedly plays an important role, since rainfall and temperature can affect the concentration of chemical compounds in soil and run-off into surface waters. The ability to carry out experiments in the proposed GMS platform where rainfall and temperature can be systematically controlled, will provide an exciting opportunity for field research to complement laboratory studies.
Impact the platform is still being built so no outputs yet
Start Year 2022
Description Global meteorological simulator 
Organisation Syngenta International AG
Country Switzerland 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The funding is for a mid-range equipment and we are building a new platform for studying plant health and disease. The platform will be used to conduct in planta evolutionary experiments using Magnaporthe oryzae to understand how the biophysical properties of spore dispersal affect the selection and evolution of fungicide resistance.
Collaborator Contribution Fungicide resistance monitoring, genetics and modeling teams + in- planta experimental platform for fungicides based in Switzerland.
Impact the platform has not been built yet so no current outputs
Start Year 2022