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Essex experts to help tackle issue of feeding the world

Essex researchers have been selected to be part of a multi-million-pound global research initiative to help tackle the challenge of feeding the world’s booming population by 2050.

23 November 2015

Scientists from Essex will work on two of the eight projects which were successful in securing funding from the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), which aims to raise the yield potential of wheat by up to 50% over the coming 20 years. The successful three-year projects, worth a total of $20m, involve institutions and research teams from the UK, Australia, United States, Mexico, India, Argentina and Spain. One of the projects, led by Essex, will involve an international team of scientists exploring new ways to improve plant photosynthesis, the process that enables plants to harvest energy from the sun and convert it to products for food and fuel.

The lead of the project at Essex, Professor Christine Raines, said the project will involve putting Essex research into action to test potential improvements in different varieties of wheat and different environments. The IWYP project will also involve academics from Rothamsted Research, Lancaster University and the University of Illinois. “We are really pleased that Essex has been chosen to be part of such an important international project,” explained Professor Raines. “This exciting research project is of global importance and also underlines the international reputation of Essex in the area of photosynthetic research.”

Dr Tracy Lawson will be the Essex lead on another project (led by Nottingham), using non-destructive, novel photo-phenotyping techniques to measure photosynthetic potential. Dr Lawson added: “Both these projects will strengthen Essex’s longstanding reputation of using and developing novel technologies for exploring the complex process of photosynthesis.”

Globally, wheat is the most important staple crop, providing 20% of daily calories and protein. Due to population growth and changing diets, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050. To meet this demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.7%.