Major European award for plant genetics research

Published

9th July 2015

A James Hutton Institute and University of Dundee scientist has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant to undertake research on the fundamental mechanisms that underpin the inheritance of genetic characteristics in cereal crop breeding; it is hoped that results may assist the development of new cereal varieties suited to challenging growing conditions.

Professor Robbie Waugh of the James Hutton Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences and Dundee University\'s College of Life Sciences was awarded €2.5 million to support a 60-month study that will look into the dynamics of the process called recombination that drives the exchange of parental genetic information in plant breeding.

Professor Waugh explains: “Recombination is exploited in plant breeding by generating large populations of offspring from crosses between parental lines.  Recombination shuffles the genetic materials contributed by each parent, generating new combinations from which genetically improved individuals are selected.  

“This project will focus on identifying the molecular components involved in recombination, and developing strategies that could be used to increase or redistribute it, hence improving the breeding process.”

The project builds on the expertise of both the Institute and University in crop genetics research, which has already contributed to landmark achievements such as the unravelling the potato and barley genomes.

ERC Advanced Grants allow exceptional established research leaders of any nationality and any age to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields or other domains. The funding scheme targets researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders in their own right.

Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Research Impact at the James Hutton Institute, commented: “This is a fantastic opportunity to advance the science around breeding new crop varieties. ERC grants are awarded to exceptional individuals proposing creative and innovative ideas so it is a great measure of esteem for Robbie and all his colleagues at the institute and the University of Dundee who work closely together at our Invergowrie campus. 

“The award also reinforces our global reputation for work on barley which is an increasingly important crop and adds to the momentum behind our plans for a new International Barley Innovation Centre in Invergowrie.”

Professor Waugh’s research explores areas of biology that have resulted in historical advances during the process of domestication, cultivation, and breeding of crops. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013 and his research has been regularly featured in high profile scientific publications and journals.

Notes to editors:

Image attached: Cereal crops, Professor Robbie Waugh (c) James Hutton Institute.

The James Hutton Institute is a world-leading, multi-site scientific organisation encompassing a distinctive range of integrated strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic science. It undertakes research for customers including the Scottish and UK Governments, the EU and other organisations worldwide. The institute has a staff of nearly 550 and 125 PhD students, and takes its name from the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment scientist, James Hutton, who is widely regarded as the founder of modern geology and who was also an experimental farmer and agronomist. www.hutton.ac.uk

More information from: Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media and External Relations Coordinator, Tel: 01224 395089 (direct line), 0844 928 5428 (switchboard) and 07791 193918 (mobile), email: Bernardo.Rodriguez-Salcedo@hutton.ac.uk.

James Hutton Institute

The James Hutton Institute is a world-leading scientific organisation encompassing a distinctive range of integrated strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic science. It undertakes research for customers including the Scottish and UK Governments, the EU and other organisations worldwide. The institute has a staff of around 600 and 150 PhD students.

University of Dundee

Nobel Prize winning poet and honorary graduate Seamus Heaney has described the University of Dundee as ‘having its head in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground.’ The ability to be both aspirational and down-to earth and to blend ground-breaking intellectual achievement with practical applications, has given the University its distinctive character.

Back to news