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Protecting UK wheat production; the role of root-root interactions

Ask any UK wheat farmer which weed they most dread and you’re likely to get the answer “blackgrass”. It’s a particular problem in East Anglia even small infestations can have an economic cost.  Herbicide resistance is also now being reported, making this weed particularly problematic. We can readily envisage that the presence of blackgrass in a wheat field will challenge the crop for nutrient, water and light resources.  Are there any non-resource factors at work? For example, do blackgrass root secretions inhibit the growth or deleteriously change the architecture of wheat roots?  Our work to date indicates that they do and this project addresses the possible molecular mechanisms. We quantitate the effects of blackgrass on wheat roots with 2D and 3D analysis of root system architecture parameters.  We have found that blackgrass exerts effects on wheat roots even when resources are not limiting. Our candidate blackgrass secretions are strigolactones (1), a class of plant growth regulators better known in parasitism, mycorrhization and shoot branching (2).  We are also using Arabidopsis thaliana against blackgrass as it provides strigolactone synthesis and sensing mutants (2).  You will learn essential skills for GMO work and plant husbandry. Specific skills to be acquired include 3D reconstruction, use of analysis and statistical software, qPCR.  Main learning outcomes include an appreciation of the UK wheat sector and underpinning biological challenges, an appreciation of hormonal signalling controlling root growth and the mechanisms of calcium signalling in roots.

  1.  Nature 455, 195  (2) Plant Cell and Environment 32, 694