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Gene discovery holds key to growing crops in cold climates

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9 September 2010

Fresh insight from BBSRC-funded research into how plants slow their growth in cold weather could help scientists develop crops suited to cooler environments - and provide a boost for food security.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and York have shown for the first time that a gene - known as Spatula - limits the growth of plants in cool temperatures, possibly helping them adjust to cool conditions.

The scientists believe that by manipulating the gene, they could produce the opposite effect - enabling development of crops that grow well in cold climates.

Scientists studied the Spatula gene in a weed known as thale cress and found that when levels of the gene were low, the plant leaves grew almost twice as much at lower temperatures as they would normally.

Being able to improve crop growth under cool conditions - in which growth would typically be slow - could help ensure the availability of food supplies for future populations.

The study, carried out by the Universities of Edinburgh and York, funded by BBSRC, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Royal Society, was published in Current Biology.

Dr Karen Halliday of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: "We have pinpointed a key gene linked to the growth of plants according to the temperature - this could be of real interest in improving crop yields and food security in temperate climates."


Notes to editors

For more information please contact Dr Karen Halliday, School of Biological Sciences, tel 0131 650 5318; email or Catriona Kelly, Press and PR Office, tel 0131 651 4401;


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.