Adapting to the demands of climate change
The demands for a growing world population – estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 – are putting increasing pressure on the need for higher yielding crops that do not rely on a high input and demand of chemicals or water.
But crops in some parts of the world are under a tremendous amount of stress, having to cope with extreme spells of rain, high temperatures and drought.
Climate change is only going to make conditions even more challenging.
Water is critical to plants and the unpredictability of a water supply is one of the main drivers to negatively affect plant yield.
The expected human population boom means a step-change in agricultural productivity, sustainability and resilience is needed to keep up with demand. Ensuring future food security and building climate resilience is also central to the UN’s global sustainable development goals.
With this growing focus on climate change and the environment, the research carried out by Essex’s Plant Productivity Group is more important than ever.
This team of researchers in our School of Life Sciences have considerable expertise in the physiology of plants in the laboratory and the field.
Uniquely, they have the capacity to place our research in a real-world, socio-economic context, ensuring we are dealing with issues of global importance.
They are taking a whole organism approach to identify key genes and processes that determine how well plants cope in constantly changing environmental conditions – from severe drought to extremes of light and temperature.
It was Essex’s reputation for innovation and excellence in photosynthetic research which made it a key player in the inception of international research project RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) in 2012.
RIPE has a simple mission – to end hunger worldwide.
Based at the University of Illinois, the RIPE project has attracted multi-million-dollar funding from organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
Researchers are engineering plants to improve photosynthesis to increase the yields of staple food crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
So far, RIPE has demonstrated through laboratory, greenhouse and replicated field trial experiments that three of its objectives can significantly increase the productivity of model crops.
Essex’s involvement in RIPE has led to major research advances, including finding a way to protect crop performance in the face of rising global temperatures in December 2021. Essex research has also led to two patent applications for new strategies to improve photosynthesis and water use efficiency in plants.
Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC)
With one of the longest established whole plant physiology and photosynthesis groups in the UK, our School of Life Sciences is determined our research remains relevant and addresses real-world challenges.
We have built strong links and successful collaborations with the horticultural and agricultural industry.
However, we wanted to take these relationships to the next level.
We have done this with EPIC – the Essex Plant Innovation Centre – which provides a new platform to bring together the research expertise, skill and technical capabilities across all our faculties to explore new opportunities to engage with industry.