Students Staff

03 November 2015

Essex experts to help tackle issue of feeding the world

Professor Christine Raines

Professor Christine Raines

Essex researchers have been selected to be part of a multi-million-pound global research initiative to help tackle the challenge of feeding the world’s booming population by 2050.

Scientists from Essex will work on two of the eight projects which were successful in securing funding from the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), which aims to raise the yield potential of wheat by up to 50% over the coming 20 years.

The successful three-year projects, worth a total of $20m, involve institutions and research teams from the UK, Australia, United States, Mexico, India, Argentina and Spain.

One of the projects, led by Essex, will involve an international team of scientists exploring new ways to improve plant photosynthesis − the process that enables plants to harvest energy from the sun and convert it to products for food and fuel.

Professor Christine Raines, who is leading the project at Essex, said the project will involve putting Essex research into action to test potential improvements in different varieties of wheat and different environments.

The University of Essex has had an international reputation for innovation and excellence in photosynthetic research for more than 25 years. The IWYP project will also involve academics from Rothamsted Research, Lancaster University and Professor Steve Long, from the University of Illinois, who began his scientific career at Essex where he was based for more than 20 years.

“We are really pleased that Essex has been chosen to be part of such an important international project,” explained Professor Raines, who is Head of the School of Biological Sciences at Essex. “This exciting research project is of global importance and also underlines the international reputation of Essex in the area of photosynthetic research.

“The challenge of feeding the world is a major issue for the planet and we are pleased to be part of this global research initiative focusing on solving this complex problem.”

Dr Tracy Lawson will be the Essex lead on another project (led by Nottingham), using non-destructive, novel photo-phenotyping techniques to measure photosynthetic potential. Dr Lawson added: “Both these projects will strengthen Essex’s longstanding reputation of using and developing novel technologies for exploring the complex process of photosynthesis.”

Globally, wheat is the most important staple crop, providing 20% of daily calories and protein. Due to population growth and changing diets, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050. To meet this demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.7%.

The IWYP was instigated by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2012.

Steve Visscher, BBSRC Deputy Chief Executive – International, said: “This is a very exciting step that we have been working towards for several years. The critical issue of food security relative to a rapidly expanding population, coupled with the effects of climate change, is a global one that requires immediate international action since the scientific discovery, development and delivery process takes many years. We believe that IWYP is but one important new strategy to address this issue. IWYP also provides a new model for a public-private partnership and how coordinated international research programs can be done effectively and efficiently.”


Notes to editors

To interview Professor Christine Raines please call the University of Essex Communications Office on: 01206 872400 or 07824 569642 or

A picture of Professor Christine Raines is available to download on flickr.

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