Improving crop protection

P3 scientists awarded £1 million from the Wolfson Foundation.

Scientists from the Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre at the University of Sheffield have been awarded £1 million from the Wolfson Foundation. The funding will be used to establish a state-of-the-art facility for selecting crop varieties that express durable resistance to pests and diseases.

The P3 Centre aims to stimulate development of sustainable agriculture by taking world-class fundamental research to the farm field and solving many of the challenges currently faced in the agri-food sector, for example the necessity to increase agricultural output while simultaneously increasing its sustainability and resilience of crops against climate change.

Through its Futures 2022 project, the University of Sheffield has been investing in new equipment for the P3 Centre including controlled environment rooms, which can mimic different environments from tropical to polar conditions, and a remote scanning platform that can detect disease in crops at an early stage.

The new Wolfson Foundation funding will allow the P3 Centre to further invest in its disease phenotyping facilities, including new microscopy equipment, state-of-the art DNA sequencing equipment and mass spectrometers for high-throughput analysis of plant metabolites.

Professor Jurriaan Ton, co-director of the P3 Centre, said of the Wolfson Foundation funding, “The P3 Centre is at the forefront of the advancement and application of phenotyping (characterization) of disease-resistant crops. With this phenotyping platform, we aim to accelerate genetic selection schemes for disease-resistant crop varieties and develop new treatments that can prime the immune system in existing crop varieties.

“This new equipment funded by the Wolfson Foundation provides us with the technological capacity to identify specific biochemical, physical and genetic markers of disease susceptibility and/or resistance in crops. We will work in close partnership with crop breeding enterprises to select more resistant crop varieties that require fewer pesticides for the control of pests and diseases. This new equipment will also allow us to work with Agrochemical companies and develop new treatments that offer long-lasting disease protection by boosting the efficiency of the plant immune system. So, this grant from the Wolfson Foundation will not only advance our fundamental research in plant-microbe interactions, it will also help us to make a significant contribution to the challenge of increasing sustainability of the food production chain by exploiting cutting-edge green technology.”

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice Chancellor, said “I am delighted that the Wolfson Foundation has awarded this major grant towards equipment for the P3 Centre. P3 is one of only three flagship projects within our ‘2022 Futures’ strategic initiative and was awarded 2022 Futures status based upon the outstanding international research track record of its leading individuals, the importance and novel nature of their research ambitions and its focus on inter-disciplinary research and collaboration.  The Wolfson Foundation has been a generous donor and supporter of The University of Sheffield over the last 50 years. This latest award demonstrates the Foundation’s trustees’ commitment to recognising the importance of science and medicine to society and the economy. It also represents a massive vote of confidence for the outstanding team of scientists, led by Professor Duncan Cameron and Professor Jurriaan Ton.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said “Food security is one of the great challenges of the 21st Century. The dual challenges of climate change and a growing world population demands dynamic and sustainable solutions to intensify the production of food crops. We were very impressed by the research agenda at Sheffield, which will apply outstanding fundamental research to many of the problems currently facing the agri-food sector. The Wolfson Foundation supports excellence, and we have been funding the University since the 1960s. We are very pleased to be continuing this partnership.”

Notes to Editors

University of Sheffield
With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities. A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in. In 2014 it was voted the number one university in the UK for Student Experience by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields. Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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The Wolfson Foundation
The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts.  It was established in 1955. By its 60th anniversary in 2015 over £800 million had been awarded in grants (£1.7 billion in real terms) and over 10,000 projects have been funded. The Foundation is made up of twelve trustees, a small staff team at their London office and a wider network of advisors and reviewers.

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