CROP-FS - Climate-Resilient Open Partnership for Food Security

As a result of changing climate, a growing world population risks experiencing more food insecurity. More frequent and intense precipitation events, elevated temperatures, drought, and other types of damaging weather are all expected to take tolls on crop yield and quality. This is happening at a time when global food demand is predicted to increase 70% by 2050. Developing climate-resilient crops that can adapt to rapidly changing climate is critical to ensure global food security and political stability. CROP-FS aims to establish an international network of specialists to develop research strategies that will enable major food crops to grow under more extreme environmental conditions such as drought, high temperature, and irrigation with brackish or seawater.

The CROP-FS collaboration was launched in 2016 with agricultural and plant scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US,  Zhejiang University in China, Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, and the Universities of Leeds, Southampton and York in the U.K. This "open-partnership" IRG approaches the problem of developing climate-resilient crops using teams working on three specific long-term objectives:

1. Understanding how climate change will affect soil matrix, and how soil amendments such as biochar and other organic matters will improve soil moisture content and carbon sequestration under changing climate. Soil can be a sink for CO2 if properly managed. To mitigate the greenhouse effect, one may apply biochar as amendment to improve soil quality and crop yield. Through this practice, soil organic carbon content will increase due to the recalcitrant nature of the biochar and soil properties will be improved. Biochar can also reduce N2O emission from soil and can adsorb and reduce the bioavailability and toxicity of soil contaminants, as a result, potentially improve food safety and security. In this proposal, we will produce biochars from different types of biomass waste and these engineered biochars with special characteristics will be selectively used to alleviate the targeted soil problems (such as soil pollution, soil acidification, and low carbon density soil) to improve soil quality and increase crop yield. 

2. Understanding how the changing climate will affect microbial communities in agricultural soils and their impact on crop yields and strategies to improve rhizosphere activity. Microbial communities are likely to be affected by a changing climate and climate extremes as well as rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and other green house gases (GHGs). They also have the capacity to respond adaptively to these changing conditions more rapidly than plants and animals, potentially affecting resilience of the whole production system. We will study how the structure and functions of these communities are affected by forest and agricultural management practices; how will plant-fungal symbioses (mykorrhizae) become instrumental in crop growth improvements to respond to climate change challenges? The outcome will be discovery and application of knowledge of microbial processes leading to increased resilience of production systems to climate variability and change, and strategies to improve rhizosphere activity and plant support.

3. Understanding the biochemical and molecular basis of crop adaptation to drought, heat, and heavy metal stresses likely to accompany climate change, and use promising candidate genes/enzymes to improve the ability of plants to produce better yields under changing climate. Plants respond to the environmental stresses at physiological, molecular and biochemical levels by differentially regulating the key gene(s) expression and adjusting their biochemical metabolism. In this objective, we will study the unique molecular and biochemical mechanisms in plants and their response under the extreme environmental conditions using modern biotechnological (metabolomic, proteomic and genomic) approaches. Identified candidate genes and gene networks will be quickly tested in model plant systems so that results can be translated and validated into real crops. These studies will lead to strategies for improving crop resilience against oxidative and abiotic stresses and producing better yields with limited agronomic inputs such as less water, fertilizers and irrigation with brackish or sea water.

Researchers interested in collaborating with the CROP-FS team may contact the lead PI.

  • Professor Om Parkash, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Professor Baoshan Xing, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Professor Klaus Nüsslein, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Professor Laurel Smith-Doerr, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Professor Baoliang Chen, Zhejiang University
  • Dr. Frans Maathuis, University of York
  • Professor Sue Hartley, University of York
  • Professor Ian Graham, University of York
  • Professor Guy Poppy, University of Southampton
  • Professor Marc Dumont, University of Southampton
  • Professor Christine Foyer, University of Leeds
  • Professor Ashwani Pareek, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • Professor Anna-Maria Botha-Oberholster, Stellenbosch University
  • Professor Karl Kunert, University of Pretoria
  • Professor Christopher Cullis, Case Western Reserve University
  • Dr. Snehlata Shinghla Pareek, International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India
  • Professor P. V. Vara Prasad, Kansas State University

Responding to Climate Change