Understanding the mechanistic basis of crop yield reductions in warm winters


In the UK and Europe high yielding arable crops are sown in autumn and flower the following spring. During winter they require chilling to promote flowering and also during flower development to promote high fertility. Previously, our research has shown that insufficient chilling during flower development leads to large yield reductions in some growing seasons, but the precise mechanism by which these effects of chilling affect yield remain unclear.

In this project the successful applicant will develop new varieties of winter oilseed rape that are able to respond to higher chilling temperatures, and thus will have more resilient high yields as the climate warms. The project will suit a student interested in the effects of climate change on agriculture, and provides an opportunity to use modern scientific methods to accelerate the breeding of new crop varieties more suited to the environments of 21st century Europe.

Using modern genomic techniques you will discover gene variants that allow high yields in environments with modest chilling, and improve our understanding of the molecular and physiological basis of yield reductions in warm winters. The project will use new technologies for understanding the effects of climate change on crops, such as a field trials with artificial plot warming, and new controlled environment facilities that can mimic real environments at high resolution and simulate warming at specific times of the year. Full training will be provided in plant molecular biology, bioinformatics, field trial design, crop physiology and the application of climate and crop modelling.

Brown JKM, Beeby R, Penfield S. Yield instability of winter oilseed rape modulated by early winter temperature. Sci Rep. 2019 May 6;9(1):6953. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43461-7.

O’Neill CM, Lu X, Calderwood A, Tudor EH, Robinson P, Wells R, Morris R, Penfield S. Vernalization and Floral Transition in Autumn Drive Winter Annual Life History in Oilseed Rape. Curr Biol. 2019 Dec 16;29(24):4300-4306.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.10.051.