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James Hutton Institute

Country: United Kingdom

James Hutton Institute

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176 Projects, page 1 of 36
  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/N00745X/1
    Funder Contribution: 207,520 GBP

    This research project focuses on sustainable intensification of agriculture in highly productive peri-urban farming areas in China. This agricultural base is essential to meet China's increasing food production demands but is under pressure from urban pollution inputs, soil and water pollution from farming practices - particularly extensive use of mineral fertilisers and pesticides, and urbanisation. We will quantify the benefits and risks of a substantial step-increase in organic fertiliser application as a means to reduce the use of mineral fertiliser. Our approach is to study the role of soil as a central control point in Earth's Critical Zone (CZ), the thin outer layer of our planet that determines most life-sustaining resources. Our Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) site is the Zhangxi catchment within Ningbo city, a pilot city of rapid urbanization in the Yangtze delta. We will combine controlled manipulation experiments of increased organic fertiliser loading with determination of soil process rates and flux determinations for water, nutrients, contaminants, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the flux boundaries where the soil profile interfaces with and influences the wider CZ; surface waters and aquifers, vegetation, and the atmosphere. To guide the research design we have identified 3 detailed scientific hypotheses. 1. Replacement of mineral fertiliser use by organic fertiliser will shift the soil food web for N/C cycling from one dominated by bacterial heterotrophic decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) and bacterial nitrification to produce plant available N and loss of soluble nitrate to drainage waters, to one dominated by heterotrophic fungal decomposition of complex, more persistent forms of OM to low molecular weight organic N forms that are plant available. This change in N source will increase SOM content and improve soil structure through soil aggregate formation. 2. Increased use of organic fertiliser from pig slurry (PS), and wastewater sludge (WS) will lead to increased environmental occurrence of emerging contaminants, particularly antibiotics and growth hormones. Environmental transport, fate and exposure must be determined to quantify development of microbial antibiotic resistance and other environmental and food safety risk, and develop soil and water management practices for risk mitigation. 3. Decreased use of mineral fertilisers and increased use of organic fertilisers will reduce environmental and food safety risks from metals contamination; this is due to lower metal mobility and bioavailability from redox transformations, reduced soil acidification and increased metal complexation on soil organic matter. Our programme of research will conduct the manipulation experiments across nested scales of observation with idealised laboratory microcosm systems, controlled manipulation experiments in field mesocosms, pilot testing of grass buffer strips to reduce the transport of emerging contaminants from the soil to surface waters, and field (~1ha) manipulation experiments. Mechanistic soil process models will be tested, further developed to test the specific hypotheses, and applied to quantify process rates that mediate the landscape scale CZ fluxes as a measure of ecosystem service flows. GIS modelling methods include data from characterisation of a subset of soil properties and process rates at a wider set of locations in the catchment, together with catchment surface water and groundwater monitoring for water and solute flux balances. The GIS model that is developed will identify the geospatial variation in nutrient, contaminant, and GHG sources and sinks and will be used to quantify fluxes at the catchment scale. These results will determine the current baseline of ecosystem service flows and will evaluate scenarios for how these measures of ecosystem services will change with a transition to widespread of organic fertilisers through the farming area of the catchment.

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  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: BB/J017213/1
    Funder Contribution: 374,391 GBP

    Potato is the third most important food crop, and it is cultivated worldwide for its underground storage stems (tubers), rich in starch and other nutrients. Potato is unique among the major world food crops in tuber formation and the processes by which tubers develop are not well understood. It is essential to know the basic biological processes which lead to tuber formation to be able to select better cultivars (with higher yield, specific shape, texture or skin colour) for the future. In this proposal we aim to identify small regulatory RNAs which play a role in tuber formation. These RNA molecules are called 'micro' RNAs (miRNAs). This new, recently discovered, layer of gene regulation involves small RNAs (including miRNAs) as regulatory molecules for post-transcriptional gene regulation. This mechanism is widespread in animals and plants and the discovery of small RNAs has changed our basic knowledge about the regulation of genes. miRNAs play important roles in development and gene regulation upon biotic and abiotic stresses. In our experiments we aim to explore the miRNA transcriptome of potato. Using a photoperiod inducible tuberization system we aim to find miRNAs involoved in this biological process. By generating high-throughput sequence data for small RNAs the availability of the potato genome enables us to identify the miRNA 'genes' using bioinformatics tools. We aim to identify conserved as well as potato specific miRNAs and investigate the role of candidate miRNAs in tuberization. We will characterize the candidate miRNAs and validate them in plants. These miRNAs will help to predict and validate the target molecules for these regulatory molecules. Such genes might play important roles in tuber development or other biological processes connected to tuber formation. The miRNAs and the target genes will help to influence and modify the pathways which lead to tuber formation and we might be able to influence or modify this process, ultimately leading to the ability to breed improved cultivars of this important crop. This knowledge will ultimately help us to produce an important food source with higher yields and improved quality.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/T001992/1
    Funder Contribution: 200,629 GBP

    The UK's land assets, and the goods and services they provide, are a finite and precious resource that is fundamental to our prosperity, and are intrinsically linked to our cultural heritage, and well-being. Over the next 50 years we expect to see unprecedented competition for land-use driven by a number of factors, including continuing growth in population and incomes, the impact of climate change and environmental degradation, new technologies (e.g. GM), and changing public attitudes and values. Around 70% (17.2 million hectares) of the UK land area is farmed, with 11.7 million ha of highly productive arable and improved grassland. UK agriculture is highly mechanised and efficient, contributing around £8.5 billion (0.6%) Gross Value Added to the UK economy annually and employing around 475,000 people. It is therefore certain that many future land-use conflicts will revolve around competition and trade-offs between food and biomass production, and other ecosystem goods and services required by society. The recently announced 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) outlines the UK Government's commitment to the protection and management of our environmental assets to deliver multiple benefits for society. Specifically, it states that future policy will support farmers to 'deliver benefits ....and achieve outcomes at the landscape and catchment level'. This will include habitat management and creation at the landscape scale to create resilient ecological networks, as recommended by Sir John Lawton in his 2010 review. Similarly, the BEIS Industrial Strategy seeks to 'put the UK at the forefront of the global revolution in farming to deliver benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers whilst driving growth, jobs and exports'. This will require farming systems that are sustainable and support the delivery of other ecosystem benefits. To put these new, cross-departmental policies into practice will require a more holistic landscape-scale decision-making framework than is currently available, underpinned by evidence from a high quality, cross-disciplinary research base. New Science to Enable the Design of Agricultural Landscapes that Deliver Multiple Functions (AgLand) will address this need and provide new knowledge, data and metrics, and a research infrastructure of study landscapes to enable evidence-based landscape planning. It will also aim to build cross-sectoral consensus and identify knowledge gaps to inform the design of future Landscape Decisions SPF initiatives. AgLand will build upon the research infrastructure, including new metrics and models, validated using existing NERC and BBSRC strategic investments (i.e. ASSIST, S2N and Wessex BESS), and will deliver this aim through the following objectives: 1) Develop and validate new metrics to describe the composition, structure and function of agricultural landscapes using earth observation techniques and existing national datasets; 2) Construct models describing the relationship between these landscape measures and key abiotic and biotic processes, and quantify how they vary across spatial scales; 3) Validate these models using data from previous UKRI and Defra investments ('study landscapes'); 4) Quantify likely change in demand for and supply of natural capital and ecosystem services, including food production, within intensively farmed landscapes taking account of alternative trajectories of land-use change; 5) Using this knowledge, create tools to support cross-departmental policy makers in the design of future 'multi-functional landscapes' to optimise, at multiple scales, the delivery of food production together with other key ecosystem functions linked to livelihoods and well-being.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: BB/K020749/1
    Funder Contribution: 290,059 GBP

    Our research is designed to help UK farmers control soil pests which damage crop production cheaply and effectively at the same time as reducing dependence on conventional pesticides which might harm the environment. The most damaging of these soil pests are microscopic nematode worms. There are different species of nematodes: some attack potato plants whilst others can infect a range of plants, including carrots and soft fruit. The most prevalent economically important species of nematode, and so the one that has the highest economic impact on UK farmers, infects the roots of potato plants and is consequently termed potato cyst nematode (PCN). There are disproportional impacts on our potato industry because of a higher incidence of PCN in the UK than in most of Europe. EU legislation has resulted in the recent loss of two major chemicals used to control nematode pests, termed nematicides, in response to the environmental concerns their use raised and plans to amend the legislation regulating pesticide use still further are likely to remove the three remaining nematicides, possibly quite suddenly. This is causing major concern to the British potato industry because it is doubtful if new pesticides, which are effective but also meet appropriate environmental safety standards, can be developed in time to replace the pesticides being phased out. One alternative control method that could be adopted in the limited timeframe available to UK potato growers is a strategy known as biofumigation, which suppresses pests by incorporating mustards and other types of plants into soil. Potato Council Ltd (which safeguards the interests of the UK potato growing industry) and the Horticultural Development Company (which promotes the UK horticultural sector), in conjunction with potato businesses, have now committed to support research to understand exactly how biofumigation works and how the potential of this technique can be exploited most effectively under field conditions. Our preliminary work has characterised a number of different plant species that produce natural chemicals which detrimentally affect PCN. We have shown that biofumigation can be used to stop the eggs of PCN from hatching into worms which subsequently attack potato plants. We have identified different types of mustard plant that could be used in biofumigation because of the range of natural anti-nematode chemicals they produce. However, inconsistencies in the effectiveness of these plants and a lack of detailed data on how best to deploy biofumigation under a range of agronomic situations prevent the widespread uptake of this sustainable pest control technique. This project will address this knowledge gap by elucidating the fundamental biochemical and metabolic processes underpinning effective biofumigation. It will characterise the profiles of the active chemical compounds, called glucosinolates, of different biofumigant mustards and determine how these vary with plant development stage and environmental factors. It will identify novel active compounds potentially effective against pests but not, as yet, evaluated in biofumigant field trials. We will analyse the effects of biofumigant plants on a range of pests both in glasshouse studies and in multiple field trials. We will use a novel plant growth technique that makes soil appear transparent allowing us to observe the effects of biofumigation on some of the nematode species for the first time. It must be shown that biofumigation does not adversely affect UK soils before the approach can be endorsed by the Potato Council, DEFRA, EU or certifiers of organic produce. We will therefore analyse the impact of biofumigant crops on beneficial organisms in the soil when deployed in the field. Outputs of the research will allow optimal deployment of biofumigation strategies for maximum efficiency over a range of field conditions, providing a sustainable pest control option for both conventional and organic farmers.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: BB/T013915/1
    Funder Contribution: 14,915 GBP

    Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite of cats that can infect all warm-blooded animals, including humans where it can cause severe disease in immune compromised people, such as AIDS or cancer patients, and in children who were infected in utero. The World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control recognise toxoplasmosis as one of the most important foodborne diseases worldwide and a leading cause of death amongst foodborne illnesses. The disease also impacts the livestock sector where it is a major cause of abortion in sheep. There is considerable variation between different strains of the parasite with some being more pathogenic than others, particularly in South America where, worryingly, cases of severe disease have been reported in healthy, immune competent individuals. The high pathogenicity of some strains has sparked much research interest on T. gondii virulence to further our understanding of the host-parasite relationship as well as predict disease outcome. Although T. gondii is recognised as a major foodborne pathogen, there is a significant lack of data on the role of retail meat in the transmission of this parasite - something which was recently highlighted as a knowledge gap by the European Food Safety Authority. Meat consumption in Brazil is amongst the highest in the world so it is crucial to determine the role of meat in transmission of T. gondii particularly since more pathogenic strains dominate in this region. This project will address the knowledge gap by conducting the first ever comprehensive study of retail meat in Brazil, investigating incidence, viability and genetic diversity of T. gondii in different retail meat samples in São Paulo. Through collaboration between Brazil and the UK, it will be possible to assess the virulence of T. gondii isolated from meat products in a host-specific system to help determine the risk of different isolates to public and veterinary health. While the mouse has proven to be an extremely important model for research into T. gondii virulence, it remains unclear how these results extrapolate to other hosts, such as humans and sheep. Given the lack of evidence of a correlation between the severity of disease in mice compared to other animals, there is an urgent need for a more relevant, host-specific system for identifying host and pathogen factors involved in determining virulence and predicting disease outcome. This project aims to address this significant knowledge gap by investigating the host-pathogen interactions during acute infection of mouse, sheep and human cells with virulent and non-virulent strains of T. gondii in vitro. The project will also assess the applicability of 3D "mini guts" as in vitro host-specific models for investigating virulence, offering a unique and exciting experimental system which mimics the primary site of infection thereby reducing the reliance on experimental animals. Overall, this project will allow us to further our understanding of foodborne infections and parasite virulence. The development of a host-specific in vitro system to characterise virulence of T. gondii will offer a platform to investigate the mechanisms of virulence which will not only allow for the prediction of disease outcome in specific hosts, it will also aid vaccine design, a more specific treatment regime as well as the development of new drug compounds.

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