8th Sep 2014

Crops that thrive in changing climates could be developed more easily, thanks to fresh insights into plant growth.

A new computer model that shows how plants grow under varying conditions could help scientists develop varieties likely to grow well in future.

Scientists, including former GARNet PI Andrew Millar from the University of Edinburgh, built the potentially game-changing model to investigate how variations in light, day length, temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere influence the biological pathways that control growth and flowering in plants.

They found differences in the way some plant varieties distribute nutrients under varying conditions, leading some to develop leaves and fruit that are smaller but more abundant than others. Their findings could help scientists understand useful crop traits in a changing environment.

The researchers validated their results in lab tests by measuring the leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana plants. They say their findings give valuable insights into how plants adapt to ensure survival in less favourable conditions.

Their study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, was funded by the Darwin Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Commission. It was carried out in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany, Aberystwyth University, and commercial partners Cirad-Amis in France and Simulistics of Edinburgh. 

Professor Andrew Millar of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “One exciting prospect is to link the flood of genome sequence data to plant growth and development, by understanding the effects of sequence changes on biological processes that are represented in the model. In the process, science will gain far greater understanding of the guiding principles and the complicated, interlocking mechanisms that plants have evolved to control and direct growth. Adapting our approach to crop plants, it should become possible to link the genomic markers that crop breeders use to distinguish crop varieties, to the models that underlie precision agriculture and prescriptive planting. The more we understand the underlying reasons governing plant growth in different varieties, the better equipped we will be to breed crop varieties with stable, high yields in the future.”


This article is adapted from a press release from the University of Edinburgh, and communication with Prof Andrew Millar.