29 January 2013

UK-Brazil plant science workshop sparks ideas for joint research

How is work on wheat and broccoli relevant to sugarcane and oranges grown nearly 6000 miles away? The answer is in plant genetics.

Brazil visitors in glasshouse Dr Robert Sablowski (L) showing Brazilian scientists, including Dr Marie-Anne van Sluys (3rd from R), wheat grown at JIC

The visit by 19 researchers follows a memorandum of understanding signed between funding bodies in the two countries allowing joint UK-Brazil research applications.

“We want to turn ideas into active collaborations on important areas of science,” said Dr Robert Sablowski from the John Innes Centre.

“Our workshop produced around 20 ideas for joint experiments we can pursue and for project proposals we can work on together to try to get joint funding.”

“Not everything will fly but we think we’ve hit upon a great way to spark collaborations that will hopefully inspire others.”

A major crop in São Paulo is sugarcane, grown mostly for biofuel. One obstacle to improving the crop is that its full set of genes (its genome) is and complex and large – three times the size of the human genome.  A source of ideas to overcome this problem is the work by Norwich researchers on other plants with complex genomes, particularly bread wheat and rapeseed.

Although bioenergy is a key interest, the research presented was much wider. Interdisciplinarity was a key strength of the workshop, for example covering modelling, genetics and biology.

Brazil group shot The UK and Brazilian scientists involved in the conference, including Professor Marie-Anne van Sluys (front row, first on L) and Dr Robert Sablowski (front row, 2nd from L)

Genes that control flowering and fruit development are similar across species. Insects pests and plant diseases can be tackled in a similar way. And scientists from both countries are investigating how plants can be used make useful molecules for medicine and nutrition.

Interactions with Brazil have become a priority for the international programmes of the UK research councils, including BBSRC which strategically funds the John Innes Centre. Better scientific links with Brazil will help open new research opportunities in food security and bioenergy.

“Science benefits from a continual exchange of data and ideas, producing better insights and better quality research,” said Professor Marie-Anne van Sluys from the University of São Paulo.

UK funding body BBSRC will receive and assess joint BBSRC-FAPESP research proposals.

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