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A plant-fungi partnership at the origin of terrestrial vegetation

The first plants left aquatic life to live on land 450 million years ago, resulting in the stunning diversity of plant life seen on land today. This significant step required the ancestor of all terrestrial plants developing evolutionary innovations to adapt to the much lower levels of water and nutrients on land, as well as the direct ultraviolet radiation. New collaborative research, involving ENSA scientists, has demonstrated that this was made possible by the mutually beneficial exchange of resources between plants and fungi. Land plants fall into two main categories: vascular plants with stems and roots, and non-vascular plants such as mosses, called bryophytes. Previous studies have shown the existence read more…

Researchers discover how plants distinguish beneficial from harmful microbes

A team of plant research scientists from Aarhus University working on the global ENSA project to sustainably increase yields for small-holder farmers has made major step towards their goal to engineer nitrogen fixation in cereal crops. Legume plants know their friends from their enemies, and now we know how they do it at the molecular level. Plants recognise beneficial microbes and keep harmful ones out, which is important for healthy plants production and global food security. Published today in the journal Science, scientists have now discovered how legumes use small, well-defined motifs in receptor proteins to read molecular signals produced by both pathogenic and symbiotic microbes. These remarkable findings have read more…

Giles Oldroyd elected as a fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Giles Oldroyd has been recognised for his outstanding contributions to science in plant-microbe interactions with his election as a fellow of the Royal Society. Announced today by President of the Royal Society, Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, 51 new Fellows, 10 Foreign Members and one Honorary Fellow have been selected for their outstanding contributions to scientific understanding. Professor Oldroyd is the Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science and Director of the Crop Science Centre and Group Leader at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge. He leads the ENSA global collaboration studying interactions between plants and beneficial micro-organisms, both bacteria and fungi, that aid in the uptake of nutrients from the read more…

Q&A with Dr Tak Lee

Which project are you working on at the moment? I am comparing the biological process of two most well studied symbionts: arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobial bacteria. Plants have evolved to form alliances with microorganisms in the rhizosphere to acquire nutrients that limit their growth. The arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis appeared in the very early stages of plant evolution-about 450 mya-while evidence at the rhizobial symbiosis evolving from arbuscular mycorrhizal associations between 60-80 mya. The two share many biological aspects in common: capturing nutrients and trading them for carbon with the plant, secreting specific molecules to be recognized, and entering the plant root to directly associate with the plant cells. However read more…

Sampling nodules from Amazonian tree legumes to assist in studies on the evolution of nodulation

By Euan K. James The James Hutton Institute, UK An expedition was conducted to the Brazilian Amazon in December 2019 with the aim of sampling root nodules from legume trees. The Amazon region is globally one of the highest biodiversity regions and is the centre of radiation for many legume genera, including so-called “basal” genera in the Caesalpinioideae and Papilionoideae sub-families. As such, it is a prime site for sampling taxa which can assist in our understanding of how nodulation evolved in the Leguminosae (Fabaceae). The region that the expedition covered was based around the Rio Cuieiras, a tributary of the Rio Negro (the northerly one of the two rivers read more…

Plant scientists gather in Cambridge to advance collaborations in global food security research

Plant scientists and three major funders who are working together to sustainably increase crop yields for developing countries met in Cambridge this week to further their collaborations. They included scientists from the University of Cambridge’s Sainsbury Laboratory (SLCU) and Department of Plant Sciences, Lancaster University, The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich and the John Innes Centre. With funding from Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DFID), these scientists are developing innovations that will increase productivity and empower farmers across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.   Founder of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation Lord Sainsbury, welcomed Bill Gates (Co-Chair of the Bill & read more…

Overlap in lateral root and nodule development brings self-fertilising cereals one step closer

A vision of creating crops that do not need chemical fertilisers is one step closer thanks to the recent discovery of a substantial overlap in the developmental programme plants use for lateral roots and nitrogen-fixing nodules. The ultimate goal of the scientists is to transfer nitrogen fixation into cereals. This aim will benefit those people who have least access to food, particularly smallholder farmers in sub-Sahara Africa, by giving them improved yields of food crops under low-cost and low-input farming systems. This latest discovery builds on the scientists’ work deciphering the symbiotic communications occurring between plants and bacteria when they form a beneficial nitrogen-fixing relationship, best known in legumes like read more…

Giles Oldroyd to lead new Crop Science Centre

The University of Cambridge has elected Giles Oldroyd to the Russel R Geiger Professorship of Crop Science, leading the new Crop Science Centre, which is a partnership between the University of Cambridge and NIAB. As Director of the new Centre, Professor Oldroyd will be based in the Crop Science Building at NIAB’s new headquarters on Lawrence Weaver Road, Cambridge, opening in 2020. Currently a research group leader at the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University (SLCU), Professor Oldroyd leads an international programme focused on engineering nitrogen-fixing cereals funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called the Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) project. His team aims to understand the signalling and developmental processes read more…

New receptor involved in symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing rhizobia identified

Legumes are able to grow in nitrogen-poor soils due to their ability to engage in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. There is a great interest in using the knowledge about this symbiosis, to enable transfer to other non-symbiotic plants. An international research team has come a step further to understanding this complex biological process. Microbes, whether beneficial or harmful, play an important role in all organisms, including plants. The ability to monitor the surrounding microbes is therefore crucial for plant survival. For example, the roots of a soil-growing plant are surrounded by a microbial-rich environment and have therefore evolved sophisticated surveillance mechanisms. Unlike most other plants, legumes, such as beans, peas read more…

Coordinating approaches to crop engineering

The Crop Engineering Consortium is an initiative to coordinate approaches to crop engineering for the benefit of agricultural projects being run for food security and the global good in Europe, USA and Africa. The CEC was originally conceived as an alignment of strategies between three of the largest Gates Foundation-sponsored crop engineering initiatives, ENSA, C4 Rice and RIPE. The support network has since been extended to include researchers from 18 institutions with a shared interest in tackling complex engineering tasks in crops. Aligning the use of Golden Gate cloning technology between members of the CEC allowed for significant acceleration of all projects through rapid construct assembly. The CEC now provides a gateway to the surrounding technologies of gene read more…

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