Yields in rice, for example, could be increased, even under water stressed conditions, using the understanding of photosynthesis and its regulation. We can also anticipate reduced losses due to pests and disease from our work on disease resistance mechanisms or on the modelling of disease epidemics. Similarly we aim to reduce losses due to salt and drought through understanding of signalling mechanisms in plants.
Post-harvest losses can be minimised from our analysis of tuber and seed dormancy, or of fungi that cause damage to the products of agriculture. Other projects will help crop plant breeders transfer genes from wild species into crops and exploit hybrid vigour.
We are also interested in the ways that insects identify flowers to pollinate them. Our analysis of visual and tactile features of flowers that guide pollinator choice will help ensure that this important stage of the crop production cycle is as efficient as possible.
Understanding of the mechanisms and evolution of plant development will eventually lead to new strategies for remodelling the architecture of crop plants.
To ensure the relevance of our work with crops we link with local institutes and industry through the Cambridge Partnership in Plant Science. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is our major funder in this topic and we monitor national programmes through the multi-agency programme in Global Food Security.
The Department plays an active role in the University’s interdisciplinary Strategic Research Initiative in Global Food Security: www.globalfood.cam.ac.uk