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UK-Brazil partnership in sustainable agriculture – Embrapa-Labex at Rothamsted Research launched

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31 March 2010

Embrapa - the £400M agri-business and research arm of the Brazilian Government - has established its first UK base at Rothamsted Research, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The initiative was launched to policymakers, agri-industry representatives and the scientific community at an event in Canning House London today (March 31st), by Professor John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, and Dr Pedro Arraes, Director-President of Embrapa.

Professor Beddington said: "The global challenges facing agriculture require a global response. Increasing sustainable crop production with reduced inputs to meet increasing world food demands, while addressing the impacts of climate change and demand for bioenergy, needs international cooperation and a shared research agenda. Following the recent UK-Brazil Year of Science, this new initiative to strengthen scientific relationships with Brazil will make an important contribution to meeting these challenges"

As part of its international strategy since 1998, Embrapa has extended its activities to the USA, Europe and Asia through its Labex ("laboratory exterior") programme, placing experienced Brazilian research scientists in elite overseas institutions. In January 2010 Embrapa established its first UK base at Rothamsted Research. The aim is twofold; to carry out state of the art research in a priority science area, and to create new opportunities and links between UK and Brazilian scientists, not just within Rothamsted, but across other BBSRC Institutes, and UK universities, connecting with the wider European Labex network.

The selected Embrapa scientist for this placement is Dr Alexandre Morais do Amaral, a plant scientist who has worked on the genomics and molecular pathology of globally important plant pathogens such as citrus canker, Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. citri. Alex will be based in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology working, with Professor John Lucas, Professor Kim Hammond-Kosack and Dr Jason Rudd. The initial research focus will be on Mycosphaerella graminicola, the fungus causing Septoria leaf blotch, the most important foliar disease of the wheat crop in Europe. The complete genome sequences of this fungus and the related pathogen M. fijiensis, causal agent of the devastating Black Sigatoka disease of bananas, are now available. The research aims to identify genes involved in the infection process on wheat, and to devise new approaches to prevent the disease.

Wheat is a strategically important crop for Brazil. Today, the country produces approximately 5 million tonnes of wheat annually (half of its national demand), and aims to become self-sufficient in the future. The UK produces over 15 million tonnes annually and is amongst the leading countries in terms of average wheat yields. There is considerable potential for increased wheat production in Brazil, but an important constraint is the impact of pests and diseases on yields.

Agriculture is a major industry in Brazil, accounting for more than 30% of GDP. Embrapa provides innovative science and technology for all production regions and crop commodities in the vast and diverse Brazilian territory, with more than 40 Centres distributed across the different ecological zones. Wheat production is mainly concentrated in the southernmost states, with a dedicated research centre at Passo Fundo, Rio Grande de Sul.

Rothamsted Research already has several research links with Embrapa, as well as other Brazilian research partnerships, which have been facilitated significantly during the last decade by the Rothamsted International team, and through the allocation of four Rothamsted International Fellowships at Rothamsted. Links with Embrapa to date have focused on pest control, bioenergy crops, and soil science. "The Labex model has been very successful in extending overseas scientific collaboration with Brazil, and creation of a UK base is an important opportunity" says Professor Lucas. "Brazil is a major player in global agriculture and welcomes the opportunity to share similar concerns, skills and expertise with the UK. Both partners believe that innovative science and its application is the key to meeting the current challenges, and we are excited by the prospect of working more closely together".


Notes to editors

For further information contact the Rothamsted Research Press office (see external conatcts below)

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research, an Institute of the BBSRC, is based on Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country.

For more information see:

Rothamsted International (RI) is a non-profit-making charity working in developing and emerging countries to share research excellence in agricultural and environmental sciences for the benefit of world-wide agricultural and environmental sustainability. Rothamsted International was founded in 1993 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Rothamsted, by John Bennet Lawes. RI is based within the Rothamsted Research site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

About Embrapa

EMBRAPA (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) has the task of providing solutions for sustainable agricultural development in Brazil by means of the creation and transfer of technologies. Founded in 1973, it has thus developed thousands of technologies of use in Brazilian agriculture, reduced production costs and helped Brazil to increase its food output while conserving natural resources and the environment.

With more than 2000 research scientists, Embrapa has built up a network of 41 research centres, 3 service centres and 13 central divisions. Present in all the Brazilian states, it coordinates the national agricultural research system. Embrapa is also involved in numerous international cooperation projects, in particular through the Labex - today in the United States, Europe and Asia - and thanks to technological transfer offices in Africa (Ghana), Venezuela and Panama


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M 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 for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (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.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299