Millets make an IMPACT
29th May 2012
Faculty researchers investigate ways to improve the future for this drought-hardy, nutritious crop.
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.
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Vas Ponnambalam, Leverhulme Trust (1/09/2013), £245,031
Darren Tomlinson, Leverhulme Trust (1/09/2013), £5,645
Michelle Peckham, Gareth Howell, Roman Tuma, David Beech, Nigel Hooper, MRC (1/05/2013), £893,675
Sarah Calaghan, Derek Steele, BHF (1/05/2013), £208,005
Neil Messenger, EPSRC (1/04/2013), £618,675
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (1/04/2013), £300,633
Ian Wood, Dunhill Medical Trust (1/04/2013), £113,705
Paul Millner, Wellcome Trust (1/04/2013), £40,000
Andrew Macdonald, Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund (1/04/2013), £39,886
Samit Chakrabarty, Royal Society (1/04/2013), £15,000
Sarah Zylinski, Royal Society (1/04/2013), £11,000
Urwin, Howard Atkinson, BBSRC (1/03/2013), £626,738
Charlotte Haigh, Wellcome Trust (1/03/2013), £50,000
Jim Deuchars, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Foundation (1/03/2013), £34,618
Carrie Ferguson, Wellcome Trust (1/03/2013), £27,700
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