Optimising and sustaining biomass yield

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS

Abstract

The aim of the project is to link genotype to phenotype for yield associated traits via two key biological processes: 1) Temporal and spatial optimisation of light capture via improved plant and leaf architecture, delayed senescence, and optimal plant density; 2) Responses to drought and determination of key traits to mitigate impacts of water limitation through characterisation of root growth and stomatal control. Our challenge is to understand the critical mechanisms underlying variation in traits, how traits interact over the perennial cycle, and to determine their effects on biomass yield and composition. Populations segregating for morphological and developmental traits, including breeding lines, will be used to relate phenotype and genotype with yield. We will determine the impact of temperature and light in controlling morphology and development to allow modelling of genotype by environment interactions, and contribute to predictions of successful ideotypes under different environments. We will use a new plant phenomics facility at Aberystwyth to expand our studies including on yield stability and responses to abiotic stress. These studies will be related, using modelling, to results obtained from the same genotypes in the field. Comparative genomics will be used to reveal the extent of syntenic relationships with other grasses, elucidate genomic architecture and contribute to understanding trait regulation in highly productive C4 grasses.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description 1) In addition, based on a Miscanthus diversity population of 244 genotypes, local adaptation of yield and composition were associated with geographic areas in Asia, in contrast to overall molecular marker trends. This study demonstrated the potential for use of molecular marker-based genomic selection in Miscanthus to accelerate plant breeding.
2) In a study of whole plant carbohydrate dynamics in Miscanthus, non structural carbohydrates (NSC) were found to be retained within the stems of non-flowering genotypes in winter whilst rhizome starch concentrations had returned to pre emergence concentrations by September. At current yields, M. × giganteus could produce 0.7 t ha of NSC in addition to ligno-cellulose and earlier harvests of biomass would not leave the rhizome depleted of carbohydrates.
3) Non-structural carbohydrate profiles and in particular ratios between soluble sugars and starch serve as a biomarker for productivity in Miscanthus and offer a cost effective rapid screen for future yield. Carbon labelling experiments in collaboration with CEH demonstrate this is through the rapid incorporation of photosynthate into cell wall sugars in fast growing genotypes, compared to starch in slower growing genotypes.
4) To address the knowledge gap regarding the environmental impacts of the planting of Miscanthus, we carried out one of the most detailed GHG emission and soil C studies involving land use change from grassland and demonstrated that carbon losses following cultivation and planting with Miscanthus are relatively small and paid back within approximately 2 years as a result of rapid crop growth and significant inputs from rhizome and leaf litter.
5) New understanding has been gained on flowering time control in Miscanthus to help in the development of making wider crosses and high yielding hybrids. For example we have shown that M. sacchariflorus is, irrespective of origin, a quantitative short-day plant and the flowering phenology closely resembles that of Sorghum and sugarcane.
Exploitation Route Through working with plant breeders including those in the Miscanthus breeding (GIANT) LINK project. In November 2018, we (IBERS, Aberystwyth University) have submitted for Plant Variety Protection of our first four Miscanthus varieties (Artemis, Atropos, Astraea and Aphrodite) based on the results of recent trialling. This now means that our Miscanthus science has a route to market through a crop improvement pipeline to benefit UK farmers and be exported internationally. Through publication companies working on the improvement of energy grasses have become aware of our research (e.g. as demonstrated by requests for copies of our research papers).
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

 
Description Research is being used to help UK industry move to seed based hybrid production of Miscanthus. In November 2018, we (IBERS, Aberystwyth University) have submitted for Plant Variety Protection of our first four see based Miscanthus varieties (Artemis, Atropos, Astraea and Aphrodite) based on the results of recent trialling. This now means that our Miscanthus science has a route to market through a crop improvement pipeline to benefit UK farmers and be exported internationally.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Participation in BEIS consultation on the Bioeconomy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description AgriTech; Miscanthus Upscaling Technology (MUST)
Amount £901,884 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/N016149/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 01/2019
 
Description BEACON+ Biorefining Centre
Amount £8,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Department European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 07/2015 
End 12/2019
 
Description Development of improved perennial non-food biomass and bioproduct crops for water stressed environments (WATBIO)
Amount £535,659 (GBP)
Funding ID 35358 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 11/2012 
End 10/2017
 
Description GCRF Preserving, Restoring and Managing Colombian Biodiversity Through Responsible Innovation
Amount £5,332,079 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 12/2021
 
Description KESS2
Amount £52,885 (GBP)
Organisation European Social Fund (Welsh Government/ EU) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2018 
End 12/2021
 
Description Miscanthus UpScaling Technology (MUST)
Amount £898,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2018
 
Description Plants and Architecture
Amount £750,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Wales 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2014 
End 12/2018
 
Title Miscanthus endophytic bacteria collection 
Description Collection of bacterial strains isolated from Miscanthus tissues 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Published 2017. In use in on-going research. 
URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcbb.12364/pdf
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation Earlham Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation Teagasc
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation University of California, Berkeley
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Miscanthus genome 
Organisation University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Miscanthus sacchariflorus genome sequence, Miscanthus RNAseq data
Collaborator Contribution Miscanthus sinensis genome sequence (https://phytozome.jgi.doe.gov/pz/portal.html#!info?alias=Org_Msinensis_er), Miscanthus RNAseq data, Miscanthus molecular markers
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Articles for Biochemical Society's blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Experience communicating with a wider audience about the experience of being a PhD student and the research project. Raise awareness of the research group.
https://thebiochemistblog.com/2017/05/18/phyte-club-inside-the-plant-microbiome/
https://thebiochemistblog.com/2017/03/27/the-very-best-things-about-phd-life/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://thebiochemistblog.com/2017/05/18/phyte-club-inside-the-plant-microbiome/
 
Description BBC Wales Science Cafe: The Welsh Science Wishlist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An interview for BBC Radio Wales Science Cafe. The programme was ahead of the Welsh Government Elections in May 2016 and was to articulate The Welsh Science Wishlist for the incoming government. Iain Donnison gave the interview on wishes for the future environmental policy.

Science votes
The Welsh Government believes that science in Wales is world class. And on this programme we frequently trumpet the pioneering research at our universities. But is enough being done to build a strong and successful scientific community? Many in Wales are concerned that we are failing on science education and in preparing for the digital future. In this special edition of Science Café scientists reveal, for the policy makers, their wish lists. And ahead of next month's elections, the political parties outline their scientific priorities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0776lxj
 
Description British Science Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 2016 - PhD students presented a poster of their research project with an audience of school children and teachers. Posters were later copied and sent to teachers for display in schools.
Students from 9 Secondary schools were in attendance over the course of the week.
2017 - PhD students organised and ran a stand for the three day event, supervising a team of undergraduate students.
• A three day event demonstrating chemical changes and properties to early secondary school aged children from several local schools using hands-on experiments they could try.
• Voted third place out of around 40 different stands at the event.
• Over 3000 schoolchildren attended over the event.
• Video online including PhD student talking about endophytes https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2017/03/title-198574-en.html
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2017/03/title-198574-en.html
 
Description Cereals event 
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 Engagement with farmers and growers on the potential use of Miscanthus on farms in the UK and the delivery pipeline for seed based varieties, including on the potential environmental benefits on marginal low carbon soils. This including raising awareness of the availability of seed based Miscanthus hybrids and their significant advantage over rhizome based M. x gianteus in terms of cost of establishment, scaleability and disease susceptability.

More farmers aware of Miscanthus as an option and the improvements that are in the pipeline
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015
 
Description Engagement with Young Farmers Groups 
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 Engagement through talks, tours and discussions with Young Farmers groups on what agricultural research is taking place at IBERS, Aberystwyth and how this can impact farming now and in the future.

Requests for visits/ tours and for repeat visits from larger groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Miscanthus Safari 
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 Industry/Business
Results and Impact In November 2014 scientists, a Miscanthus Safari event was held to bring together policy makers and industry and funding bodies to hear the state of the art in Miscanthus research and to visit the extensive field trials established at Aberystwyth that contain the largest diverse collections of Miscanthus germplasm outside of Asia. The aim of the event was to highlight the progress that had been made over the last decade in the improvements in Miscanthus variety development and agronomy. In the previous 10 years a plant from the wild in Asia had been subject to modern biology and breeding approaches, to result in the trialling of experimental seed based hybrids being trialled by commercial partners on farms in the UK. This progress had only been made possible by the investment of public (principally BBSRC and Defra) and private funds. On the first day attendees visited the field sites to observe a range of activities from agronomic developments, new hybrid nurseries and large field scale analysis of carbon flux. The day was rounded off by a talk from a leading UK bioenergy crop company Terravesta on their work addressing technical and commercial barriers to large scale deployment of Miscanthus. The second day saw talks on diverse germplasm collections, developing new molecular technologies including genetic maps, germplasm and agronomic improvements for a maturing market, the environmental credentials of Miscanthus cultivation and matching land area and policy goals. The meeting emphasised the importance of biomass crops in helping moderate the effects of climate change and the short timescales over which such crops are required to deliver significant impacts. This challenge requires investment and progress to be made across a broad range of diverse research and commercial fields and was reflected in the diverse presentations across the two days.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2014/11/title-159025-en.html
 
Description Miscanthus for Wales 
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 Industry/Business
Results and Impact To demonstrate breeding progress, and the opportunity for farmers to grow Miscanthus on marginal uplands to a range of uses. The use and performance as animal bedding was 'show cased' by one of Wales' largest livestock farmers who has been using chipped Miscanthus from our research field trials since 2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.miscanthusbreeding.org/
 
Description Panel discussion at Energy Now Expo, Telford 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and led to subsequent new industry collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://content.yudu.com/Library/A26a45/EnergyNowEXPO2013/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%...
 
Description Royal Welsh Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Annual displays and activities based on agriculature and environmental green issues, including on the planting of energy crops, non-food use of plants, use of grass to make ethanol and plastics. Activities sparked discussion with farmers, and public of all ages

Visit to activities at Royal Welsh Show leads to subsequent requests for information and visits to IBERS in Aberystwyth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007,2008,2009,2010,2011
 
Description Segment on BBC news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed for Welsh language news segment. Recently for a section on women in science, previously for a segment about renewable energy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p03fd8qc/newyddion-9-s4c-pennod-19
 
Description Talk at 4th International Symposium of Forage Breeding, Melbourne, Australia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk sparked discussions among academics and industry participants.

Talk sparked discussions among academics and industry participants and led to new collaborations in Australia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Various student engagement activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact IBERS Excellence with Impact Poster session. 28th April 2016
• Presenting a poster of my research plans as part of the IBERS EWI event
• 80-100 people attended the event.
Presentation to School Teachers. 8th June 2016
• A ten minute oral presentation of research project to secondary school teachers.
• 20-30 teachers were in attendance.
Public Engagement Poster Session. 18th June 2016
• Presented a research poster to an audience of the general public.
• Over 100 people attended
World Food Day poster. 16th October 2016
• Public outreach event marking World Food Day, organised and hosted with fellow postgraduate students.
• The event illustrated the journey of food from production, through processing, to consumption, and waste, and highlighting environmental impacts.
• ~50 people attended.
Science and Energy Lecture. 19th May 2017
• Delivering a 2 hour lecture to primary school children on energy changes, with hands on demonstrations of a range of experiments.
• Groups from three primary schools were in attendance, totalling over 80 children.
• There will hopefully be a repeat of this event 2018.
Worcester Postgraduate Research Conference 29th June 2017
• 15 minute oral research presentation to a conference session of academic researchers and other postgraduate students from a range of disciplines and institutions.
• 80-100 people were at the event.
Online Outreach
• Blog (friendlybacteria.wordpress.com) writing about Science (mainly microbiology) for a general audience. I'm not sure how many people this has reached.
• Social Media: use of Instagram to post about Science and Nature (@friendly_bacteria) and Twitter to do the same (@frndlybacteria). Over 500 followers on Instagram and nearly 1300 on Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017