Global food security requires increased crop productivity to meet escalating demand(1-3). Current food production systems are heavily dependent on synthetic inputs that threaten the environment and human well-being(2,4,5). Biodiversity, for instance, is key to the provision of ecosystem services such as pest control(6,7), but is eroded in conventional agricultural systems. Yet the conservation and reinstatement of biodiversity is challenging(5,8,9), and it remains unclear whether the promotion of biodiversity can reduce reliance on inputs without penalizing yields on a regional scale. Here we present results from multi-site field studies replicated in Thailand, China and Vietnam over a period of four years, in which we grew nectar-producing plants around rice fields, and monitored levels of pest infestation, insecticide use and yields. Compiling the data from all sites, we report that this inexpensive intervention significantly reduced populations of two key pests, reduced insecticide applications by 70%, increased grain yields by 5% and delivered an economic advantage of 7.5%. Additional field studies showed that predators and parasitoids of the main rice pests, together with detritivores, were more abundant in the presence of nectar-producing plants. We conclude that a simple diversification approach, in this case the growth of nectar-producing plants, can contribute to the ecological intensification of agricultural systems.
The Para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is an economically important tropical tree species that produces natural rubber, an essential industrial raw material. Here we present a high-quality genome assembly of this species (1.37 Gb, scaffold N50 = 1.28 Mb) that covers 93.8% of the genome (1.47 Gb) and harbours 43,792 predicted protein-coding genes. A striking expansion of the REF/SRPP (rubber elongation factor/small rubber particle protein) gene family and its divergence into several laticifer-specific isoforms seem crucial for rubber biosynthesis. The REF/SRPP family has isoforms with sizes similar to or larger than SRPP1 (204 amino acids) in 17 other plants examined, but no isoforms with similar sizes to REF1 (138 amino acids), the predominant molecular variant. A pivotal point in Hevea evolution was the emergence of REF1, which is located on the surface of large rubber particles that account for 93% of rubber in the latex (despite constituting only 6% of total rubber particles, large and small). The stringent control of ethylene synthesis under active ethylene signalling and response in laticifers resolves a longstanding mystery of ethylene stimulation in rubber production. Our study, which includes the re-sequencing of five other Hevea cultivars and extensive RNA-seq data, provides a valuable resource for functional genomics and tools for breeding elite Hevea cultivars.
The growing human population and a changing environment have raised significant concern for global food security, with the current improvement rate of several important crops inadequate to meet future demand 1 . This slow improvement rate is attributed partly to the long generation times of crop plants. Here, we present a method called 'speed breeding', which greatly shortens generation time and accelerates breeding and research programmes. Speed breeding can be used to achieve up to 6 generations per year for spring wheat (Triticum aestivum), durum wheat (T. durum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and pea (Pisum sativum), and 4 generations for canola (Brassica napus), instead of 2-3 under normal glasshouse conditions. We demonstrate that speed breeding in fully enclosed, controlled-environment growth chambers can accelerate plant development for research purposes, including phenotyping of adult plant traits, mutant studies and transformation. The use of supplemental lighting in a glasshouse environment allows rapid generation cycling through single seed descent (SSD) and potential for adaptation to larger-scale crop improvement programs. Cost saving through light-emitting diode (LED) supplemental lighting is also outlined. We envisage great potential for integrating speed breeding with other modern crop breeding technologies, including high-throughput genotyping, genome editing and genomic selection, accelerating the rate of crop improvement.
In the last decade, the view of circadian oscillators has expanded from transcriptional feedback to incorporate post-transcriptional, post-translational, metabolic processes and ionic signalling. In plants and animals, there are circadian oscillations in the concentration of cytosolic free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]cyt), though their purpose has not been fully characterized. We investigated whether circadian oscillations of [Ca2+]cyt regulate the circadian oscillator of Arabidopsis thaliana. We report that in Arabidopsis, [Ca2+]cyt circadian oscillations can regulate circadian clock function through the Ca2+-dependent action of CALMODULIN-LIKE24 (CML24). Genetic analyses demonstrate a linkage between CML24 and the circadian oscillator, through pathways involving the circadian oscillator gene TIMING OF CAB2 EXPRESSION1 (TOC1).
The Eurasian grapevine (Vitis vinifera) has long been important for wine production as well as being a food source. Despite being clonally propagated, modern cultivars exhibit great morphological and genetic diversity, with thousands of varieties described in historic and contemporaneous records. Through historical accounts, some varieties can be traced to the Middle Ages, but the genetic relationships between ancient and modern vines remain unknown. We present target-enriched genome-wide sequencing data from 28 archaeological grape seeds dating to the Iron Age, Roman era and medieval period. When compared with domesticated and wild accessions, we found that the archaeological samples were closely related to western European cultivars used for winemaking today. We identified seeds with identical genetic signatures present at different Roman sites, as well as seeds sharing parent-offspring relationships with varieties grown today. Furthermore, we discovered that one seed dated to ~1100 CE was a genetic match to 'Savagnin Blanc', providing evidence for 900 years of uninterrupted vegetative propagation.