University of Leicester: researchers will work together to better understand the banana crop species and its genetics

University of Leicester: researchers will work together to better understand the banana crop species and its genetics

Research focussing on the Ethiopian banana could help improve food security in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, especially in areas affected by drought.

SWINDON, 22-Aug-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — In collaboration between the University of Leicester, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of Addis Ababa researchers will work together to better understand the banana crop species and its genetics.

The project is part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to address key global development challenges in securing future food supplies. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is leading collaboration with the Medical Research Council (MRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to invest over £16 million in Global Agriculture and Food Systems Research.

A total of 35 individual projects – including one involving the University of Leicester – were awarded to 27 lead organisations. The awards connect the UK’s world-class research base with partners in low and/or middle income countries to address key sustainable development challenges.

Dr Amanda Collis, BBSRC Executive Director of Science said, “This investment will address a number of different threats to the sustainable production of safe and nutritious food, ranging from tackling pests and disease, examining human behaviours, and improving food safety and nutrition, through to the sustainability of agricultural soils and the wider cultural and social context of food and farming. The complexity of the research requires collaborative effort from a range of disciplines, and this is an exemplar of research councils coming together to address broad international development research challenges.”

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison, of the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology at the University of Leicester, said, “Our exciting interdisciplinary project seeks to provide the foundation knowledge to help enable the exploitation of a sustainable and diverse Ethiopian starch crop known as Enset or Ethiopian banana, to support livelihoods in Africa. In collaboration with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of Addis Ababa, we will integrate genomic sequence, molecular diversity, pathology, tissue culture and cytogenetic data, with agroecological, physical trait and pest and disease incidence data derived from field research and farmer interview data from Ethiopia. The work builds on extensive expertise in Leicester firstly in working with Ethiopian scientists on crop species, and secondly on the genetics of banana.”

Dr Paul Wilkin, Head of Natural Capital & Plant Health at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said, “It is widely known that just 3 crops – wheat, rice and maize – supply almost 60% of human nutrition. This is a risky strategy as we seek to provide for a growing global population with elevating levels of climatic instability and plant pests and diseases. Research on the diverse varieties of enset, a resilient crop of southern and western Ethiopia, is urgently needed to see how it could help provide a sustainable, diverse diet for vulnerable populations. Collaborative projects such as our research on Enset connecting scientists from nations like Ethiopia and the UK will be key to finding solutions to global challenges such as food and resource security. We seek to provide the information resources needed to underpin livelihoods in Ethiopia and beyond.”


Notes to editors

This project ‘Modelling and genomics resources to enhance exploitation of the sustainable and diverse Ethiopian starch crop Enset’ is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund under a Foundation Award for Global Agricultural and Food Systems Research from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

About GCRF

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a five-year £1.5 billion fund and a key component in the delivery of the UK Aid Strategy: tackling global challenges in the national interest. The fund aims to ensure that UK research takes a leading role in addressing the problems faced by developing countries through:

  • challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • strengthening capacity for research and innovation within both the UK and developing countries
  • providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.

GCRF is an initiative led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which operates across a number of delivery partners, including the UK research councils, UK higher education funding bodies, the Academy of Medical Sciences, The Royal Society, British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and UK Space Agency.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £473 million in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.


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