Roots for the Future- A systematic approach to root design - SUREROOT

Project: Externally funded research

Project Details


The increasing frequency of extreme climate events in the UK suggests the approach of the 'Perfect Storm' described by Beddington (2009). In 2012 an early season drought followed by extreme rainfall and flooding over extensive areas of the UK drove the need for the 'climate smart' agriculture that will be used here to address the dual challenges of climate change and food security. Over an 80h period in November 2012, more than 46 x 106L of rain fell on the North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP), 90% of which was immediately lost as overland flow or in drainage. Droughts also challenge the sustainability of UK grasslands and occur increasingly in winter where the warmer temperatures now encountered encourage continued winter growth placing drought susceptible varieties at risk. UK grasslands occupy 65% of all available agricultural land and unlike most other crops comprise perennial species that provide crop yields over many years. The combination of their extensive land-cover and persistency provides grasslands opportunities for environmental service in addition to their traditional roles as high quality forage for livestock agriculture. This is achieved through selection of the appropriate varieties and when necessary their modification, and improved grassland management, with benefits likely to persist over years. Grasslands provide catchments for many UK rivers and act as regulators of water capture, its release, and quality dependent on their composition.

IBERS is widely recognised for innovative approaches to breeding grass and clover varieties. However, variety development has untill now neglected programmes to improve root design or the opportunities for improved root-soil interactions that will deliver improved soil structure, hydrology, nutrient use and reduce the compaction that compromises crop yields. A recent BBSRC study published in Nature Scientific Reports (involving the PI of this proposal) demonstrated the potential for a novel grass species hybrid to initiate significant root-soil interactions that would if reproduced at the field-scale generate significant benefits in terms of flood control (DOI:10.1038/srep01683). Equivalent results have been recorded in white clover. In the current project, the potential of both for flood control will be assessed at the field scale, independently and as mixtures. The project will use two new BBSRC-supported National Capabilities: the National Plant Phenomics Centre (NPPC) and the North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP). The project will investigate at different scales from the individual plant genotype, to the plot, through to the crop the potential for environmental service that may be achieved through a modified root design or growth pattern. The results achieved from the NPCC and NWFP facilities will be validated by testing selected varieties on commercial farms in diverse locations and under alternative livestock management systems.

The proposal will use the latest BBSRC high-throughput phenomic and genomic technologies, with a suite of well characterised and relevant experimental populations together with molecular markers to engage in marker-assisted breeding for improved root designs in elite forage grass and clover varieties. Plant materials suitable for entry into National List trials will be developed within the time-course of the project. This proposal is being submitted through the BBSRC stand-alone LINK scheme. The project will benefit from the involvement of industrial partners that represent the various sectors of the UK grassland and livestock industry allowing for identification and review of key targets, and evaluation of the impact of the research, dissemination of the results within the grassland sector, and uptake and delivery of project outcomes.

Key findings

Proof of principle whereby roots of a Festulolium grass died back at depth affecting soil structure and reducing rainfall run-off by 51% compared to a National Listed perennial ryegrass variety. The outcomes suggest a possible strategy for flood mitigation
Effective start/end date01 Apr 201431 Mar 2019


  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Funder reference unknown): £896,229.28

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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