Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Millets make an IMPACT

29th May 2012

Faculty researchers investigate ways to improve the future for this drought-hardy, nutritious crop.

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Millets are one of the most drought tolerant crop plants and are staple crops of many of the poorest people in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa.

Through a European Union Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship to Dr Antony Ceasar Stanislaus a new project 'Improved Millets for Phosphate ACquisition and Transport' investigating the acquisition and transport of the key nutrient phosphorus in millets has been initiated in collaboration with Prof Alison Baker and Prof Steve Baldwin in the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

The semi-arid tropics are characterized by unpredictable weather, limited and erratic rainfall and nutrient-poor soils. Millets can be cultivated far more economically in these environments than wheat, maize and barley.

The grains of small millets are nutritionally superior to rice and wheat and provide cheap proteins, minerals vitamins and micronutrients to the poor where the need for such ingredients is the maximum. The nutritional quality of millets makes them suitable for large scale utilization in the manufacture of baby foods, snack foods, dietary food, etc. from both grain and flour form. Millet grains also contain substantial levels of a wide range of phenolic compounds with health promoting properties, particularly antioxidant activities; millets are also used as nutraceuticals and in functional foods. Millets are the most drought-tolerant cereal grain crops and require little input during growth, but, as with other crops, yield better with good husbandry.

An adequate supply of phosphorus which is taken up as inorganic phosphate (Pi) is essential for optimal plant growth. Global reserves of cheap rock phosphate are finite and the price of Pi fertiliser increased 800% between 2006 and 2008, putting it out of the reach of many smallholder farmers.

Conversely, retention of much of the Pi applied as fertilizer leads to phosphorus loading of agricultural soils and subsequent run-off from arable land is a major cause of eutrophication and hypoxia in freshwater and coastal environments. Better understanding of mechanisms of Pi acquisition and use can thus potentially make an enormous contribution to agriculture, via production of crop varieties that have better Pi use effectiveness (same yield with lower external inputs / better yield in Pi-limited soil).

As 'orphan' crops grown largely in less developed countries, there has been little work on developing improved millet varieties. This project will help to understand the molecular mechanisms of phosphate utilization and transport for the improvement of this and other related groups of plants. With increasing world population and decreasing water supplies, millets represent important crops for future human use both in the tropics and in Europe.


Recent Grants

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Medimmune Ltd (Apr 2014), £337,661

Peter Stockley, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £251,019

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £146,596

Andrew Macdonald, Kidney Research Fund UK (Apr 2014), £127,237

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in School of Design), Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £114,350

Paul Millner, Peter Stockley, Darren Tomlinson, YCR (Apr 2014), £95,874

Carrie Ferguson, Karen Birch, Shaunna Burke, Heart Research UK (Apr 2014), £60,140

Dave Westhead, MRC (Apr 2014), £18,304

Brendan Davies, BBSRC (Mar 2014), £451,829

Jim Deuchars, MRC (Mar 2014), £300,000

Adam Kupinski, Children with Cancer (Mar 2014), £50,000

Alison Baker, Steve Baldwin, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £403,439

Sarah Zylinski, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £355,869

Dave Lewis, Nigel Hooper, Tony Turner, Hugh Pearson, James Duce, Alzheimer's Society (Feb 2014), £29,871

Ronaldo Ichyama, Samit Chakrabarty, International Spinal Research Trust (Jan 2014), £304,600

Brendan Davies, BBSRC/Bayer Crop Science SA-NV (Jan 2014), £470,053

Adrian Goldman, Steve Baldwin, Stephen Muench, Thomas Edwards, Arwen Pearson , BBSRC (Jan 2014), £467,103

Stefan Kepinski, BBSRC (Jan 2014), £359,269

Elwyn Isaac, EU (Jan 2014), £179,445

Dave Westhead, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Jan 2014), £105,937

John Barr, Thomas Edwards, MRC (Dec 2013), £469,505

Alex O'Neill, MRC (Dec 2013), £349,017

Darren Tomlinson, Yorkshire Cancer Research (Nov 2013), £142,334

Nikita Gamper, MRC (Nov 2013), £336,563

Keith Hamer, Alison Dunn, NERC (Nov 2013), £47,233

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2013), £749,365

Urwin, Howard Atkinson, BBSRC (Oct 2013), £360,508

Eileen Ingham, Stacey-Paul Wilshaw, NHS R&D (Oct 2013), £356,623

Sheena Radford, BBSRC (Oct 2013), £329,906

Nigel Hooper, Alzheimer's Research (Oct 2013), £327,075

Eileen Ingham, EPSRC (Oct 2013), £276,751

David Beech, BHF (Oct 2013), £109,974

Mark Harris, Medical Research Foundation (Oct 2013), £34,455

James Dachtler, Royal Society (Oct 2013), £15,000

Ade Whitehouse, Teresa Rosenbaum Golden Charitable Trust (Oct 2013), £10,000

Jurgen Denecke, BBSRC (Sep 2013), £382,093

Andy Cuming, EU (Sep 2013), £257,714

Paul Knox, BBSRC (Sep 2013), £411,948

Vas Ponnambalam, Leverhulme Trust (Sep 2013), £245,031

Peter Meyer, EU (Sep 2013), £242,166

Dave Rowlands, Nic Stonehouse, EU (Sep 2013), £202,556

Derek Steele, BHF (Sep 2013), £103,629

Joan Boyes, NC3Rs (Sep 2013), £90,000

Peter Stockley, Royal Society (Sep 2013), £11,400

Darren Tomlinson, Leverhulme Trust (Sep 2013), £5,645

Nic Stonehouse, Dave Rowlands, BBSRC (Aug 2013), £574,906

Eileen Ingham, Wellcome Trust (Aug 2013), £191,470

Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Aug 2013), £75,000

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Aug 2013), £40,000

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