UWE team given half a million pounds to tackle bean blight
THE University of the West of England (UWE) is to take part in a half a million pound study to find ways of increasing crop yields by reducing disease.
The £500,000 award from the Biotechnologies and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will enable UWE researchers to build on recent discoveries about how disease spreads in bean plants. The three year project could result in developing new ways to prevent diseases in this valuable food crop.
The principal investigator, Professor Dawn Arnold from UWE's Centre for Research in Biosciences said: "The team has previously discovered that bean plants' natural defences against bacterial infections could be unwittingly driving the evolution of more highly pathogenic bacteria.
"Protecting plants from disease is a major part of national and international food security strategies. This new study will support one of the BBSRC's priority areas of Crop Science. It will be multi-disciplinary, involving aspects of microbiology, pathology, genomics and genetics.
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"Our research results will not only help agriculture and policy-makers, but will also be made available to the public."
The bacterium under study, Pseudomonas syringae, causes a disease in French bean plants known as halo blight. Symptoms include brown spots surrounded by a yellow halo. The disease causes bean plants to lose their leaves and die, and is a serious and costly problem for farmers worldwide.
Dr Helen Neale of UWE, who will be working on the project, said: "In our initial study we demonstrated for the first time that when bacteria are exposed to chemicals produced by disease resistant plants they show an increased ability to take up new DNA from the environment. This allows the bacteria to evolve more quickly than normal, as they gain large numbers of new genes in one go, allowing them to overcome plant disease resistance."