Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Nutrient supply, growth and development of field vegetables - HH3501SFV

The UK horticulture and agriculture industries rely on large inputs of mineral nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilisers to maintain product yield and quality. Recovery of applied fertilisers by field crops is inefficient (routinely < 50 % for N, < 10 % for P and < 40 % for K). Since unrecovered fertilisers are continually displaced through leaching, bulk water movements and aerial erosion, adjacent terrestrial and marine environments are susceptible to nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). This can lead to habitat loss and a decline in biodiversity. Unrecovered fertilisers also represent an unnecessary cost to growers. Thus, it makes environmental and financial sense to increase the nutrient-use efficiency of crop production by reducing fertiliser inputs whilst maintaining crop yields and quality.

The nutrient-use efficiency of a crop production system (yield per unit input of fertiliser) is determined by the genetic characteristics of the crop plant (genotype) and by the environment in which the crop is grown. Nutrient-use efficiency can thus be increased by modifying the environment, or, by selecting and/or breeding varieties with enhanced nutrient-use efficiency. Methods to modify the crop's environment will often be specific to a particular farm or holding (i.e. will be dependent on soil type, rainfall etc.). The selection and/or breeding of varieties with improved nutrient-use efficiency is a more generic approach to the problem. However, to do this it is first necessary to gain some knowledge of the genetic variation and inheritance of nutrient-use efficiency. The main objective of this project is to characterise the genetics of nutrient-use efficiency and to use this information to develop strategies to reduce the use of fertilisers. To do this we will generate experimental data under field and glasshouse conditions. We will study P-use efficiency (PUE) of Brassica oleracea as a model system.

The project has three primary deliverables:
• A database of Brassica oleracea PUE phenotypes. This database will identify the range of PUE in modern varieties. This will allow varieties to be matched to their nutritional environment. The range of PUE found in accessions in the HRI-Genetic Resources Unit (GRU) will also be defined. This database will be delivered to growers, via a summary factsheet and subsequent consultation.

• Molecular information needed to develop genetic markers for enhanced PUE and to screen crop germplasm for allelic variation in PUE. This information can be used in crop improvement programmes.

• Explicit breeding strategies by integrating phenotypic and genotypic information for PUE. The generic HRI 'CropStore database, which integrates genetic resource, linkage, genome and trait data, will be used as a vehicle.

By developing strategies to reduce the use of fertilisers, this project meets the primary DEFRA aim of sustainable development. It also meets the DEFRA policy objectives (i) to protect and improve the environment and enhance biodiversity, (ii) to promote a sustainable food supply chain, (iii) to promote sustainable, diverse, modern and adaptable farming and (iv) to promote sustainable management and prudent use of natural resources domestically and internationally. Although the project is primarily strategic in nature, it also includes a strong component of knowledge transfer and technology interactions to ensure that the results will be of direct use to the industry and to policy makers.
The overall aim of this project will be met by addressing four separate themes, each encompassing two individual scientific objectives.

Theme 1: Background
01. Develop reliable glasshouse and field assays to characterise P-use efficiency (PUE) in reference Brassica oleracea populations
02. Identify parents of mapping populations of B. oleracea suitable for quantitative trait loci analysis (QTL)

Theme 2: Phenotype
03. Determine the PUE of up to 50 commercial B. oleracea varieties and 400 varieties from the HRI Genetic Resources Unit (GRU) representing a wide geographical and genetic distribution of B. oleracea and close relatives
04. Construct a phenotypic database containing PUE information and transfer this information to the industry via a factsheet

Theme 3: Genotype
05. Identify genetic loci impacting on PUE using QTL analyses
06. Further resolve genetic loci impacting on PUE in B. oleracea, using Brassica and Arabidopsis genetic resources (using substitution lines, determining conservation of gene order)

Theme 4: Integration
07. Integrate phenotypic and genotypic PUE information using correlative and linkage disequilibrium association analyses
08. Develop breeding strategies, in consultation with industry, using HRI 'CropStore'

Since the programme of work is long-term in nature (five years), we will incorporate two decision points within the project. Decisions will be made in consultation with the DEFRA Project Officer. One meeting will take place after approximately one year to report on how the Background theme is progressing because this theme is crucial to the long-term success of the project. A second decision point will be incorporated after approximately three years to ensure that DEFRA are satisfied that the three main deliverables of the project remain on course.

Project Documents
• Final Report : Characterising the genetics of nutrient-use efficiency in Brassica   (714k)
• Final Report - Annex : Appendix 1   (210k)
• Final Report - Annex : Appendix 2   (327k)
• Final Report - Annex : Appendix 3   (489k)
• Final Report - Annex : Appendix 4   (226k)
• Final Report - Annex : Supplementary table 1   (795k)
• Final Report - Annex : Supplementary table 2   (53k)
• Final Report - Annex : Supplementary table 3   (161k)
• Final Report - Annex : Supplementary table 4   (50k)
• Final Report - Annex : Supplementary table 5   (58k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2002

To: 2007

Cost: £869,225
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Warwick - HRI, Horticulture Research International
Allocated - WHRI              
Natural Resource Use              
Organic Farming              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Fields of Study