Crop Genetic Resources

Our research group carries out the development and characterisation of existing and new crop genetic resources, drawing on NIAB’s experience in genetics, pre-breeding, field testing and tissue culture.

Much of this work centres around the capture of novel genetic diversity through wide crossing and its systematic interrogation through the development of derived ‘pre-breeding’ material in adapted genetic backgrounds. This is often used both in further research projects and, as parental lines, in more market-focused commercial breeding programmes.

Research areas

Diversity-enriched wheat

NIAB is at the forefront of driving increased wheat genetic diversity into the hands of breeders through our flagship wheat resynthesis programme, which captures novel genetic diversity from the ancestors of wheat and delivers it through pre-breeding lines. This work has contributed to the BBSRC multi-partner public-good wheat projects ‘WISP’ and ‘Designing Future Wheat’ and continues through involvement in their successor, ‘Delivering Sustainable Wheat’.

Another key project is our hosting of the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) European Winter Wheat Translational Hub, in which our group takes novel beneficial traits from IWYP discovery projects and transfers them, through repeated cycles of crossing and marker-assisted selection, into elite European winter wheat backgrounds for validation and uptake into competitive breeding programmes.

Orphan and novel crops

We seek to combine genetics and agronomy to rapidly improve those crop species with the most potential for sustainable productivity, especially as domestic protein sources.  A primary target is faba bean, the most widely cultivated legume in the UK which is still regarded by many as an underinvested ‘orphan’ crop. Through improved breeding and agronomy, faba bean has great potential to displace much of the soya that is currently imported for use in animal feed and food production. We are also exploring the potential for more novel (to the UK) crops such as chickpea, lentil and even home-grown soybean to become viable UK cropping opportunities.

Tissue culture and micropropagation

We have established a High Plant Health facility for the propagation of elite soft fruit material through tissue culture. Similar approaches are now being applied to key stocks of other high value crops.

About the group leader

Since joining NIAB from the commercial sector in 2007, Phil has worked on breeding and pre-breeding projects including NIAB’s flagship wheat resynthesis programme, the multi-partner WISP, DFW and DSW wheat pre-breeding initiatives, and the development of wheat MAGIC populations.

Phil now also leads NIAB’s portfolio of pre-breeding work across a range of broad-acre arable crops, including cereals, legumes, potato, speciality oilseeds and others. This is often collaborative work with industry partners from breeding companies, end-users and other parts of the supply chain.

Phil’s input forms a significant part of NIAB’s work to raise the profile of domestic plant protein production through legume crops and other protein sources.

Led by

Phil Howell

Phil Howell

Crop Genetic Resources group leader

Other research groups

Ian Henderson

Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance in Plants

Led by Ian Henderson

The Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance group investigates plant genome structure, function, and evolution. T

Kostya Kanyuka

Pathogenomics & Disease Resistance

Led by Kostya Kanyuka

Kostya leads the Pathogenomics & Disease Resistance group at the Crop Science Centre and is Head of Plant Pathology at NIAB where he leads strategic, applied, and commercial research encompassing biology, detection, surveillance, and management of di

Tally Wright

Crop Quantitative Genetics

Led by Tally Wright

The quantitative genetics research group focuses on how genetic variation between different crop accessions can influence their phenotypes, particularly for traits controlled by many genes.

Johannes Kromdijk

Environmental Plant Physiology

Led by Johannes Kromdijk

This group studies the physiology of photosynthesis and its interactions with environmental drivers such as light, water, temperature and CO2 with the ultimate aim to improve crop productivity and water use efficiency.

Stéphanie Swarbreck

Crop Molecular Physiology

Led by Stéphanie Swarbreck

Crop Molecular Physiology group researches nitrogen responsiveness at the gene, the whole plant and the plot level, in order to discover and select crop varieties with a low nitrogen requirement and well adapted to regenerative agriculture practises.

Ji Zhou

Artificial Intelligence and Data sciences

Led by Ji Zhou

This group combines AI, computer vision, and data analytics with expertise in plant phenotyping, breeding, and agronomy to enhance crop production in the UK and developing countries

Natasha Yelina

Crop breeding technologies

Led by Natasha Yelina

Novel breeding technologies in legume crops to enhance the production of new cultivars adapted to changing climatic conditions, as well as having sustainable yields.

Jeongmin Choi

Crop resilience

Led by Jeongmin Choi

As sessile organisms, plants have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to help cope with environmental stress.

Uta Paszkowski

Cereal symbiosis

Led by Uta Paszkowski

The mutually beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is the most widespread association between roots of terrestrial plants and fungi of the Glomeromycota.

Lida Derevnina

Crop pathogen immunity

Led by Lida Derevnina

We aim to functionally characterise the NRC network and determine the molecular basis of NLR network mediated immunity.

Giles Oldroyd

Sustainable crop nutrition

Led by Giles Oldroyd

The availability of sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are major limitations to crop productivity. This is primarily addressed through the application of inorganic fertilisers to augment these limiting nutrients.

Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Plant-parasitic interactions

Led by Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Combining genomics and molecular biology to understand fundamental questions in host:parasite biology

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