Scientists’ breakthrough in making oilseed rape crops more pod-shatter-proof

Oilseed rape dispersal. Picture: ANDREW DAVIS/JOHN INNES CENTRE

Oilseed rape dispersal. Picture: ANDREW DAVIS/JOHN INNES CENTRE - Credit: Archant

East Anglian scientists studying ‘pod shatter’ in oilseed rap crops say breeding temperature-resilient crops is an “achievable dream”

A new study by the John Innes Centre at Norwich has established a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of pod shatter in the crop.

The research, by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer.

Dr Kumar said: “It’s almost as if there is a thermostat that controls seed dispersal, or pod shatter. As we learn how it works, we could in the future ‘rewire’ it so seed dispersal does not happen at the same pace at higher temperatures.”


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He added: “This piece of the puzzle, coupled with the use of advanced genetic tools means that developing temperature-resilient crops becomes an achievable dream.”

Controlling seed dispersal, or “pod shatter” is a major issue for farmers of oilseed rape worldwide, who lose between 15-20% of yield on average per year due to prematurely dispersed seeds lost in the field.

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The study set out to find out if temperature increases had a direct influence on pod shatter in oilseed rape, and how this is controlled by genetics.

“Over the last two decades, scientists have identified the genes that control pod shatter. However, it is not until now that we begin to understand how their activity is affected by the environment, and in this case temperature,” said Professor Østergaard.

Dr Xinran Li, a postdoctoral researcher, monitored fruit development in Arabidopsis, a model plant related to Brassicaceae crops, at three different temperatures 17C, 22C and 27C.

This showed that stiffening of the cell wall at the tissue where pod shatter takes place is enhanced by increasing temperature leading to accelerated seed dispersal.

The team established the genetic mechanism which organises the plant response to higher temperatures.

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