A major milestone in crop breeding was announced recently: researchers have made significant progress in unravelling the secrets of the complex wheat genome, which is five times the size of a human genome.
Stuart Catchpole is Business Development and Communications Manager for The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) which has played a key role in this work. Stuart is keen to assist the rapid adoption of this type of leading-edge science by the agricultural industry. As result he is one of the champions of the GROW agri-tech business plan competition which helps those with an exciting business concept stress test their ideas. We asked him about how he saw TGAC’s research supporting agri-tech.
A genome contains all the genetic instructions for building and maintaining an organism and access to this knowledge will help wheat breeders accelerate their crop improvement programmes and researchers to discover genes for key traits such as yield, nutrient use and bread making quality. and TGAC is instrumental in making the genome ‘assembly’ (a type of reference model) available to researchers.
How is the research at TGAC relevant to agri-tech?
Researchers at TGAC are interested in agri-tech for many reasons, but primarily the application of their science allows a response to key global challenges and presents many opportunities for industrial collaboration.
Researchers are interested in things like in-field phenotyping, precision farming, food security, crop breeding and the analysis of big data. In particular they have an interest in areas such as biomarker development, developing resistance traits, plant immunity investigation and breeding tools.
Some of our more enterprising scientists are also interested in development of cost effective sensors and the monitoring of crops provides great opportunities for us to use our experience of analysing complex data.
Do you have any current projects in the institute that would be of interest to the agri-tech community?
Early collaborations, particularly with end-users, are essential for the further development of technologies but the following will be of interest to farmers and breeders:
- Air-seq – a surveillance method to identify microbes present in the air through continuous monitoring of air samples and sequencing the material collected.
- CropQuant – ‘The Next Generation Crop Monitoring Workstation for Precision Agriculture’
- Seed Germination image analysis.
What support does TGAC give to potential entrepreneurs?
We provide our staff with mentorship, as well as support for business plan writing and market research. We also invest to provide Intellectual property protection and training of staff and help to find funding.
If researchers want to get involved with GROW how would you recommend they proceed?
Details of GROW are on the Agri-Tech East website but ideally researchers at TGAC would come to us at the KEC Office as we are able to offer support and structure an application so that it answers the right questions and is targeted towards the right audience.
Are there any particular projects that you would like to highlight?
We have several impressive collaborations where we are working with breeders to identify disease resistance and yield enhancing genes. We are also working with Syngenta to develop a seed germination analysis platform.
So far most of our projects are at Technological Readiness Level 1-4 (where the technology has been validated in the lab). We will need to invest further in their development to get them to become viable technologies / spinouts.