CATCH THE BUZZ – Birmingham Scientists Make Plant-Breeding Breakthrough

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have made a breakthrough which could be a major stepping stone to increasing food and crop security across the globe.

Evolution is not always perfect, and that’s certainly the case with plant reproduction.

Professor Franklin-Tong and Professor Franklin, from the University of Birmingham, have generated a genetically modified plant that rejects its own pollen. Their hope is that this will prevent self-pollination from occurring. This research is vital and exciting in the world of plant biology, as it means that crop plants can be produced that are stronger, fitter and grow at a faster rate, through interbreeding and by selecting the most favourable characteristics. It is likely that this research is a major stepping stone to increasing food and crop security across the globe.

Evolution - BUZZ

The model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.

Researchers used the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, which can self-pollinate, and the field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, which can recognise where pollen originates, and is therefore capable of rejecting ‘self’ pollen (this is called self incompatibility). It is controlled by a receptor protein in the pollen and a signal protein in the stigma of the plant, which allows the plant to recognise if it is interacting with a ‘self’ pollen grain or a ‘foreign’ pollen grain. If a poppy receives a signal that the pollen is from its own plant, it initiates programmed cell death, and terminates that grain of pollen.

So to achieve self incompatibility within Arabidopsis thaliana, scientists cloned the genes which control the receptor and signal proteins from the field poppy into Arabidopsis thaliana, giving it the ability to recognise ‘self’ pollen.

This is the first time scientists have created plant hybrids that avoid self-pollination and which can therefore achieve a higher yield, by selecting for these genes through interbreeding. The research team at the School of Biosciences have opened up a new opportunity for a secure food source, which could help countries to produce higher yielding crops at a relatively low-cost. This is essential if the world is going to cope with an ever-increasing population that needs to be fed to survive.