COP21 guest blog – Christine Foyer

Christine Foyer is a Professor of Plant Science at the University, and leads the Human Health and Food Security project.

Seeds of Change

Seed quality is crucial to agriculture, food security and the conservation of wild species. Currently, significant economic losses result from poor seed performance, which also undermines food security and threatens livelihoods. Seed quality and hence performance is strongly influenced by the environmental conditions experienced by the mother plant.  Climate change is therefore predicted to exacerbate economic losses and decrease the predictability of seed yield and quality for the farmer. The looming challenges of climate change and food security require new knowledge of how stress impacts on seed quality, as well as a re-appraisal of optimal storage conditions. The EcoSeed network addresses these challenges by bringing together teams of leading experts in seed science and converging sciences, including two teams in the Centre of Plant Sciences at the University of Leeds, to diagnose how climate change will alter seed quality and the resilience of seeds to climatic perturbations. EcoSeed combines state-of the-art “omics”, epigenetics, and post-“omics” approaches, such as nuclear and chromatin compaction, DNA repair, oxidative and post-translational modifications to macromolecules, to define regulatory switchboards that underpin the seed phenotype. EcoSeed is proactive in finding solutions to problems of ensuring seed quality and storability and plays a leading role in enabling associated industries to capture current and emerging markets. Special emphasis is placed on the stress signalling hub that determines seed fate from development, through storage, germination and seedling development, with a particular focus on seed after-ripening, vigour, viability and storability. A key facet of EcoSeed research is the translation of new knowledge gained in model species to crops and wild species.  Our goal is to create a step-change in understanding of the regulatory switchboards that determine seed fate. Ecoseed not only assists plant breeders to address the challenges of climate change on seed performance but also provides useful advice to the seed trade and conservation groups.