Research Councils invest £4M in new projects designed in partnership with the horticulture and potato industry

The second round of the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI), has awarded over £4M in research funding to six projects to support high quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops. The funding includes £4M from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and £280,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). HAPI will help the horticulture and potato supply chains enhance their competitiveness and resilience to climate change, increase plant resistance to disease and environmental change, and develop more efficient ways of farming.

HAPI was developed by BBSRC together with NERC and the Scottish Government. The Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP), in its role as horticulture co-ordinators for the BBSRC, has supported project applicants and the HAPI Steering Group in the development and assessment of projects to optimise their industrial relevance. The HIP will work closely with each of the projects to maximise the opportunity for wide industrial impact as results emerge.

Research funded through the call will address priority areas identified with industry such as pests and pathogens, seed quality and crop quality. This will help improve the sustainability of commercially valuable crops.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Executive Director, Innovation and Skills said: “Working with industrial partners, we have identified key areas where research is necessary to help address the challenges of a sustainable food supply. These research projects will help to deliver improved yields, and reduce waste, in turn benefitting both producers and consumers in the UK and worldwide.”
Professor Mark Tatchell, HIP, said: “It is exciting to see the diversity of businesses which have come together with a range of research scientists to tackle problems of genuine importance to those businesses.  We hope these projects will help foster closer interactions between the horticulture and potato industries and research scientists to help drive innovation in their businesses.”

The six projects receiving funding are:

Apple Replant Disease Evolution and Rootstock Interaction (ARDERI). Professor Xiangming Xu, East Malling Research (£482,000)

Apple replant disease is a serious threat affecting newly planted apple trees, which fail to thrive in areas where apples have previously grown. East Malling Research is collaborating with industry to provide detailed information about the disease, which could be used to develop new management strategies and breeding programmes to benefit one of the UK’s major horticultural industries.  

New UK potato varieties with late blight and potato cyst nematode resistance, reduced bruising and improved processing quality. Professor Jonathan Jones, The Sainsbury Laboratory and Professor Peter Urwin, University of Leeds (£841,000)

Potatoes are an extremely important crop, playing a major role in global food security. However yields and suitability for consumption are reduced by several shortcomings in current varieties.  This research aims to combine newly engineered traits into popular potato varieties to increase their resistance to diseases and bruising. If successful, the potatoes could be commercialised to both reduce waste and cost to consumers.  

Exploiting seed coat properties to improve uniformity and resilience in Brassica seed vigour. Steven Penfield, John Innes Centre and Professor Julian Moger, University of Exeter

In a changing climate, increasing the resistance of plants is becoming increasingly important. The success of a seed is determined by the genetics of the crop, vigour-enhancing chemicals and crucially temperature at seed production. This research looks to develop new varieties of Brassica with high seed vigour that are insensitive to the effects of temperature during seed production.
In addition, they hope to develop a technique that objectively monitors the uptake of important growth chemicals by seeds. The approach could be used to prioritise the development of important new chemicals and methods to maximise uptake.

Developing integrated approaches for pest and disease control in horticultural field crops (IAPAD). Dr John Walsh, The University of Warwick and Mr Martin Williamson, Rothamsted Research (£925,000)

Turnip yellows virus (TuYV), transmitted by a common greenfly species is a very important virus affecting brassicas. Unlike many other viruses, it does not show obvious symptoms and  as a result, many growers are unaware of infection. Researchers are developing an integrated programme to give optimal control of TuYV. By analysing plants with varying levels of susceptibility, the researchers will develop molecular markers, which seed companies could utilise in commercial varieties.    

A genetic approach to improving post-harvest quality. Professor David Pink, Harper Adams University, Dr Carol Wagstaff, University of Reading and Dr Guy Barker, The University of Warwick (£1,024,000)

Post-harvest discolouration is a significant cause of quality loss in a wide range of fresh produce such as sliced apple, cut cabbage and lettuce. Researchers are collaborating with industry to identify the genes involved in the discolouration of lettuce leaves and how they behave under different growing conditions. Once identified, they will look at which lines show differences in discolouration and will measure their taste, as well as their resistance to aphids and mildew, applying the understanding to other crops such as apple and cabbage. 

A systems approach to disease resistance against necrotrophic fungal pathogens. Dr Katherine Denby, The University of Warwick, Dr Carol Wagstaff, University of Reading and Dr Paul Hand, Harper Adams University (£881,891)

Fungal pathogens can cause very serious diseases in horticultural crops such as lettuce – an industry worth almost £200M annually in the UK.  Chemical control is problematic for several reasons as few effective compounds are available and widespread fungicide use can lead to resistance. Researchers are developing a new approach to breeding in hope of developing resistant crops.  By applying genomic and systems biology, they look to identify genes for increasing resistance to important fungal pathogens. This will provide a foundation to develop similar resistance to these pathogens in other horticultural crops.