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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X019179/1
Title: Engineering saline resistance in land plants
Principal Investigator: Torode, Dr T
Other Investigators:
Lima, Dr M Skidmore, Dr M A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Faculty of Natural Sciences
Organisation: Keele University
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 October 2022 Ends: 30 September 2024 Value (£): 202,240
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Synthetic biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Jun 2022 New Horizons 2021 Full Proposal Panel Announced
23 Jun 2022 New Horizons Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Panel June 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Globally, agriculture requires 70% of yearly global freshwater consumption and utilises 50% of habitable land. In order to ensure food security for the growing population, whilst incorporating sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate climate change, we must develop innovative approaches to maximise the efficiency of food production. Desirable traits are often found in wild or ancestral crop species, which have not been selected for in modern crop varieties, and subsequently lost. The discovery and transfer of these beneficial traits is a promising route for scientists to enhance crop resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses.

A highly desirable traits is the capacity to filter salts from entering plant tissues, allowing them to utilise saline water which would normally kill plants. This is achieved in marine algae (seaweeds) via modifications of polysaccharides that form their extracellular matrices. The direct transfer of these modifications into crop plants is not possible due to the different underlying biochemistry between plants and algae. Fortuitously, a similar modification has been found within polysaccharides of seagrasses. Seagrasses are closely related to terrestrial crop plants, but they returned to the marine environment. The shared morphological traits of seagrasses and crops allows us to transfer these traits between them. Additionally, the recent sequencing of the seagrass Zostera genome has revealed candidate genes for this modification, and possible approaches towards the transfer of this advantageous trait to crop plants.

This project will decipher the mechanisms required for saline tolerance in plants and semi-synthetic biomaterials. This will allow us to transfer this biotechnology for filtering charged particles into medical (improved dialysis), industrial (improves reverse osmosis), and agricultural applications (crops that require no freshwater).

Key Findings
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.keele.ac.uk