Research Themes & Projects
Science and social science to deliver enhanced food security
Water availability and quality: natural environments, domestic use and food production (WaterSci) – A UK-China Science Bridge project
This project addresses perhaps the greatest challenge facing humankind: feeding a world population approaching 7 billion against a background of growing concern over our planet’s capacity to adapt to a changing climate.
With the world's population fast approaching seven billion, one of the main challenges facing the human race is how to feed its people. It's estimated that a rise in food production of at least 50% will be needed by 2030 to meet increasing food demands, against a backdrop of accelerating climate change and increasingly unpredictable weather extremes.
It may be possible to use deficit irrigation to exploit the plant’s long distance signalling networks to enhance water use efficiency in agriculture and increase reproductive crop quality.
Within the plant kingdom a wide variety of mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the efficient mobilization and extraction of mineral nutrients from the soil. However, the recovery of nitrogenous fertilizers by crop plants is usually very poor, with up to 70% of the applied N being wasted.
Sustainable approaches to crop protection
Crop plants are constantly under threat from a variety of insects and other animal pests, as well as numerous diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. .
Plants have evolved multiple traits that provide resistance against a range of biotic and abiotic stress factors.
Plants are frequently attacked by both above- and belowground arthropod herbivores. Nevertheless, studies rarely consider root and shoot herbivory in conjunction.
Adult predators and parasitoids can play an important role in the biological control of insect pests. The majority of these ‘carnivorous’ arthropods also need to feed on sugar sources to cover their energy requirements.
Non-crop vegetation in agricultural landscapes can provide a range of important ecological services, including conservation of native flora/fauna as well as agronomical services such as the enhancement of biological pest control and pollinators.
The environmental impact of genetically engineered (transgenic) plants is a major concern arising from the use of these novel crops. In a number of instances commercially grown insect-resistant Bt crops have been shown to suffer increased damage from non-target herbivores.
Parasitoids, like most insects, live in a chemical world, as they use a broad range of chemical information when searching for mates, food and oviposition sites.
The chemical detection ability in dogs has been long harnessed for use in, for example, search and rescue, and detection of a multitude of illegal chemical substances.
The African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) is an economically important pest of pasture grasses and graminaceous crops, including maize, wheat, sorghum and millet.
There is a growing desire to replace environmentally-damaging chemical pesticides with novel biocontrol agents, such as microbial pesticides (entomopathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi).
Plant Stress Biology
Soil drying limits plant productivity through an impact on both gas exchange and canopy development. This limitation is a result of the influence of chemical and hydraulic signals which integrate the impact of climatic and edaphic influences on plant growth and functioning.